Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Washington, DC

To spend a pleasant spring afternoon in Washington, DC, escaping both invading tourist hoards and swampy heat is a rare and special treat. To do so with free and ample on-street parking shows evidence of divine intervention.

I make my way down the Via Dolorosa of tourist sites. The Capitol, attended briefly by a parade of dorky Segue riders and then quiet again. No sign of Clarence Thomas or his RV at the Supreme Court. The Washington Monument, encircled by flags and hosting a small jazz festival in the late afternoon sun. The Jefferson and Iwo Jima memorials across the water. But for me, nothing beats the solemn grandeur of Lincoln. It stands as a secular temple to the goodness that this country can achieve.

Lincoln sits in his outsized club chair like a father figure to the nation, he maintains a quiet dignity despite the swarming throng, their chatter reduced to a surging echoing murmur inside the cool marble walls. Cub scout troops and Indian families and school field trips pose for snapshots at his feet, a paparazzi swarm sputtering flashes. A "Quiet. Respect Please" sign goes clattering over in the crush.

What would Lincoln have made of all this? From his feet, before being elbowed aside, I look up at his stern countenance. He stares evenly out on the city he governed and the nation he saved, revealing nothing. I walk off to his left past a row of columns and into the airless cool shadows. Standing beneath the words of his second inaugural address, delivered to a nation exhausted by war. Barely a month later, he would be dead.

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right...let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds...to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

Looking at his profile, I think I can make out the hint of a country lawyer's wry and weary smile, but it sure feels like there's work still to be done.

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