April 14, 2005

I was in Washington a few days ago and walked down along the tidal basin to see the cherry trees in bloom. They are a magnificent sight. The blossoms are exquisitely delicate and set off against a vivid blue sky they seem to be too ethereal for this world. The trouble is, nowadays, if you're going to see them you have to do it in the midst of a crowd that makes you feel exactly like you're filing out of a football stadium. People are packed everywhere and no matter how you step or how you try to stop, you're in somebody else's way.

This is the problem of the modern world. Everybody knows about famous sites and everybody wants to go see them. The consequence is that, now, nobody can see them in the manner they were designed for. The cherry trees, for example, were supposed to provide a quiet refuge where people in the midst of a great capital city  could find a moment's repose and a place for peaceful reflection. But there is no genuine peace among the cherry blossoms now in Washington. It's not that the people are rude or noisy. There were citizens of almost every nation there and virtually every one of them was trying to be polite and respectful of one another.  All of us seemed to know what each of us was seeking. But there were just too many of us for our hopes to be fulfilled.

I lived in Washington when I was young and it was a much quieter city. And, then, it was the kind of place it was designed to be. I have never been a super patriot and displays of national power tend to give me the creeps rather than a thrill. Yet, I felt that Washington, at least in its ceremonial sections, was a place we could all be proud of. It bespoke our better nature. Both the Jefferson and the Lincoln memorials are buildings of architectural power, and in their presence one can feel the idealism that under girds our sometimes raucous nation. I have walked up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when no one else was there, and stood at the top and looked back along the reflecting pool to the ascending spire of the Washington Monument. But, now, no one can do what I did then.

Maybe it's just nostalgia, but I regret what we have lost even as I understand the widespread impulses that have taken it away.

©John R. Turner

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