A notable sensation when whizzing down Washington, DC streets is the catch in the throat as you glimpse iconic national landmark after iconic national landmark. Oh, there's the Capitol Dome, there's the White House, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial. The latter we took a cab to in order to photograph some students admiring the cherry blossoms, which are at their peak this week. We had to share the path with 80,000 other people however--finding a spot with any semblance of serenity took some doing.
While waiting for our couple to show up (it took them a half hour to park), I visited the Jefferson Memorial. Despite the Boy Scout troops and school groups and throngs of tourists, I found a kind of serenity in this rotunda. And then I read the words inscribed in marble, and I was moved to tears. “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal...” And also, “...I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate that these people are to be free...”
On the west end of the reflecting pool is the Lincoln, even more moving in its simplicity (it is unfortunate the same cannot be said for the monstrosity at the other end, the WWII, which reeks of triumphalism and heavy-handed symbolism). On one side is inscribed the Gettysburg Address, on the other, his second inaugural speech. This one completes the sentiment in Jefferson's, only now Lincoln avers that God has seen fit to wreak his judgment upon the nation for our stain. It is a moving speech, worth the effort to plow through the nineteenth century syntax.
Visiting these pilgrimage sites I feel powerfully stirred in my patriotism, and my devotion to my identity as an American. Our country has an exceptional status in the course of human history, and these ideals, particularly when we are not living up to them, are worth fighting to preserve. These monuments of Washington, DC, they are the temples for our American secular religion.