There are almost always lines at voting stations, but since I began to exercise my franchise in 1976, I've never seen anything like what I saw this morning.

Rose Hill Elementary is a pleasant school in suburban Washington. A print of George Washington in his general's uniform is displayed prominently in the school office. This seems appropriate, both because of the "First Founder's" importance to our country and because his home, Mt. Vernon, is only a few miles away from the school.

In the school foyer this morning, there were several tables full of baked goods which were being sold to those of us in line to help finance a fourth-grade trip to Jamestown. The gym, where the voting takes place, is small but clean and festooned with the flags of many nations - perhaps because so many of the students of the school are from immigrant families - but the largest flag is that of the United States, and is hung prominently so as to be hard to miss.

The line I was in was roughly one-quarter mile long. Hundreds of those Gen. Washington, in his Farewell Address, called our "friends and fellow citizens" lined up to cast their ballots in a historically decisive election. Good humor was prevalent, a sense of excitement almost palpable. Rather than being irritated by the length of the line, people were quiet and patient; only good-natured laughter occasionally broke the silence. The fact that there were so many cheerful children's projects decked along the hallways probably didn't hurt.

I was greeted at the electronic voting booth by a smiling and gracious woman who instructed me in the use of the machine. For all I know, she is a person of vastly different political leanings than mine. But her courtesy outweighed any desire to try to strong-arm me into voting one way or another.

Our country is riven by disagreement on some of the most crucial things that could face any nation. As Margaret Thatcher said once, "The veneer of civilization is very thin." In an era where the public use of expletives is seen by many as amusing, where "entertainers" commit vile acts on-stage before young children, where life is counted sufficiently cheap that sex-selection abortion is becoming more prevalent, I'm not sure how long we can endure as a free republic. Yet today, at least in one Northern Virginia suburb, civility, respect, and honor for the right of free people to uphold representative self-government were real.