The cherry blossoms are out this week in Washington, and it seemed a shame to be there and not see them. So a kind host fetched me early on Saturday, hours before our retreat was to begin, and we headed out for the tidal basin.
Which do you want, he said, FDR Memorial or cherry blossoms? Oh, dear. I had never seen the memorial, and it had been decades since I had soaked up the cherry blossoms. Could we do both? We could, it seemed, and so we walked first into the memorial. It is a sculpture garden, walled with stone and brick and bronze, with powerful waterfall fountains. It is arranged in "rooms," each corresponding to a portion of the twelve years during which President Roosevelt was the central figure of American civic life and self-definition. Enter the first one: there our 32nd president sits, tall even in his wheelchair, all alone on the pavement. In another, a man sits in a kitchen chair, leaning close to his radio; nearby, a bread line forms outside. And, on the wall: No Country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources. Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order. Then the war: great chunks of granite litter the ground, one on top of another, as if they have landed there in a terrible explosion, the fountains chaotic torrents of water, rushing and dangerous. The texts on the wall marry the war effort with a message of resistance to intolerance wherever it is found, even here -- a link that carried implications for the designers of the memorial it did not yet carry fully to the people who were alive at the time. We have faith that future generations will know that here, in the middle of the twentieth century, there came a time when men of good will found a way to unite, and produce, and fight to destroy the forces of ignorance, and intolerance, and slavery, and war. And then the voice fell silent -- on the wall are words from a speech, written but never delivered: More than an end to war, we want an end to the beginnings of all wars.
The idea, still only an idea, of an end to the beginnings of all wars. The idea that war issues directly from bigotry, and so bigotry is never innocent. The idea that we have a moral duty to help the poor lift themselves. The idea that we are all connected, that we are not each a little island of self-interest. The morning was windy and chilly, as is usual in Washington during cherry blossom time. We left the memorial, walking past the shrine to Eleanor Roosevelt, who has her own place out back, and out along the tidal basin walkway. The workmen were doing some last-minute pruning before the festival began, and a few joggers were out. April 13th, 1945 -- the trees were just finishing their bloom when Roosevelt died, I suppose. The Washington Memorial against a clear blue sky, with a blossom-laden branch and the water in the foreground: I took a picture.
Visit the memorial and read all the wall inscriptions: http://www.nps.gov/fdrm/home.htm
And see the cherry blossoms: http://dc.about.com/od/hoildaysseasonalevents/ss/CherryBlossoms_3.htm