Whether you live here or often come as a tourist, it's easy to postpone a trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. You know it's going to make you depressed so you really don't see the point.
It's time to get beyond that. It's time to realize that there is a reason to go: The Holocaust museum may be the singularly most important Washington destination.
Schedule a visit now. Plan to bring a loved one because you're going to need someone to hold or to hold you. Make no plans for the remainder of the day: You will not be in the mood.
Put some food in your stomach before you arrive because -- to be perfectly candid -- you're going to feel the urge to throw up, and you may actually do so. An empty stomach will only make it worse. Don't plan to eat afterward; you won't be able to.
Turn off your cell phone when you arrive, not even allowing it to vibrate.
View everything you see in the museum. Under no circumstances are you to avoid a film about medical experiments you have to look over barriers to see. Whether you allow children to see it is up to you: People with poor parenting skills should probably keep kids away. The same goes for the news reel films in another room.
When you enter a train car, don't just pass through it: Stop. Imagine. Feel.
Then there's the film at the end, when you have to really brace yourself. Holocaust survivors tell their stories. Visitors cry, teenage girls right along with full-grown men. Wipe the tears away with your fingers or let yourself sob into the sleeves of your shirt or that of the person you brought with you: You won't be alone.
The film is a long one and you'll repeatedly think you can't take it anymore: Force yourself to endure. You'll be asking yourself the same question that caused you to procrastinate visiting in the first place -- why you're subjecting yourself to the museum. That's when one of the survivors explains what she hopes people will do as a result of visiting.
Even though the screen quickly changes to the next person, replay the woman's words in your head. Record them in your mind. Promise the woman -- and yourself -- that you will honor her request. Think about it in the context of what you see in your own community, and in headlines from across our country, on a daily basis.
Exit the theater and find a quiet place to sit down. You may not have the strength to walk for a bit, and you won't be able to mumble more than a sentence during your entire trip home. When you and your loved one do regain your voices, pledge to each other that you will keep the promises you each silently made to yourselves.