April 15, 2014
Well, she did it again this year. My dear wife of 425 months decided to add one more item to an already full schedule on Palm Sunday.
“Let’s go by and see the Cherry Blossoms,” she piped up. I groaned. Not this Sunday. There will be millions of people there. We’ll get stuck in traffic, just like we did last year. Can’t we go some other time?
Of course, that’s part of the great appeal of the Cherry Blossoms in Washington. They come when they come. And it’s hard to predict how long they will last. Even a brief thunderstorm can put an end to them.
But, this Palm Sunday was already looking very full. First, I had to visit a friend in jail. (Yes, we do that kind of thing.) Then, we were slated to attend worship services with friends at their Northern Virginia church. After that, we were slated to go to Sunday brunch. I was afraid we’d get stuck in one of those can’t go ahead, can’t go back congested affairs around the Jefferson Memorial and the Tidal Basin. We’d be locked in and it would throw off the whole day’s schedule.
Let’s go early, my bride countered. Very early. So we did. The sun was just rising over the Capitol as we entered Washington. The stately dome with its Statue of Freedom was bathed in a pink glow. I pass the Capitol Dome twice a day every day I drive in to work. I never stop marveling at its ever-changing classical beauty.
This day, I tried to envision a huge banner draped across the length of the western portico of the massive structure. At just about this time of year, April, 1865, the Commissioner of Public Buildings, Benjamin Brown French, had written a message to celebrate the victory of the Union army at Appomattox. French chose the words from Psalm 118: 23:
This is the Lord’s Doing; It is marvelous in our Eyes.
Around the grounds on Capitol Hill were many lovely trees just budding out. Beautiful. Wouldn’t they do?
Not quite. On we drove down Constitution Avenue. We passed the newly restored Washington Monument. The scaffolding that has surrounded that majestic obelisk is finally down. The monument is scheduled to open again for visitors on May 12th after nearly three years of repairs. The earthquake damage of August 23, 2011, threatened to permanently close this popular tourist attraction, but an excellent job of restoration has been done.
I’ll be especially eager to walk down the stairs to the 555-foot monument and report on the many tributes to our Founding Father inscribed there. Simply to take that descent is to learn a lot about our country’s history. And, of course, there’s the simple fact that the aluminum pyramid that tops the monument has an inscription—Laus Deo—on its east front. Because the law proscribes any other building from surpassing the Washington Monument in height, the first rays of the sun will always strike those words: Praise the Lord.
Finally, we come to the Jefferson Memorial. The dawn is breaking and the Cherry Blossoms are at their peak. It is truly a sight to behold.
So I dutifully get in line with ten thousand other beholders. Even at dawn, the crowds are dense. Forget about parking. The Park Service is not interested in having you park. So we look for a place to let my wife jump out to take pictures. I’m planning to make a circuit and pick her up again. And then, seeing gridlock ahead, we decide against it.
Then, she reminds me what day this is. It’s April 13th. Why, it’s Mr. Jefferson’s birthday! That’s a rare treat. And we are here at his memorial 271 years later.
Inside that classical dome, are inscribed his words that first inspired me to take up a cause our Supreme Court had rejected:
The God Who Gave Us Life Gave Us Liberty at the Same Time.
The best part is we made it to visit our inmate friend in jail and to worship with our friends on Palm Sunday. (We made it to the brunch, too.) Next year, we vow, we’ll come earlier still. We’ll park at the office and walk over.
I’m hooked. I confess I cannot resist the pleas of my loving wife. She is right. This beauty must be seen and savored.