Washington: The Common Man's Mount Olympus

Washington, DC, with its monuments, memorials, and classical architecture is the ordinary person's Mount Olympus.

Enshrined there are the effigies and words of wisdom of the shapers of the United States. These are ordinary people whose incredible minds transformed the outcasts of Europe into a nation. In the process, they lifted up republicanism and democracy as sacred ways of life. We have a God-given right to make our lives and an obligation to do so, they believed. Thus these folks shook off the caste system of their forebears that limited the vision and reach of all but a select few and worked hard at they knew not what. These were geniuses and creators.

That so many monuments consist of larger-than-life figures surrounded by their own words carved into the walls speaks to the value we place on thought and lives built on the values and goals expressed in those thoughts.

That so many monuments to ordinary people doing their best in times of conflict--memorials to the soldiers of WW II, Korea, Vietnam--are all but wordless speaks to the profound respect we feel for those who give "the last full measure of devotion," as Abe Lincoln put it in his Second Inaugural Address.

These thoughts were on my mind as my daughter took in the memorials and monuments for the first time while we were visiting the capitol last week. I stood back and watched her as she photographed the statues of soldiers and of Jefferson and Lincoln, men who stood firmly by their belief in the dignity of all people.

At home, we loaded her pictures into the computer and were thunderstruck by her choices. She photographed all the words that surround Jefferson. She looked Lincoln in the eye as she brought him home.

As she wiggled around for the best angle to photograph Jefferson's words, I overheard a tourist ask a tour guide about Jefferson's affair with a slave named Sally Hemings. Weakly, the guide replied that she wouldn't make moral judgments.

Ironically, I found myself making a moral judgment about a man striking up a conversation with a stranger about the sex life of a man long dead. It's fashionable to take pot shots at the big guys these days, to knock the gods from their pedestals by ignoring their gifts in favor of obsessing about their flaws--real or imposed.

I wonder at the irony of this. Why do we trample the legacy of our founders when we realize that they were human--which is to say flawed, sometimes inconsistent, in some ways weak? These were ordinary men and women, after all. Their greatest gift to us was to make a virtue of being ordinary that we might as a nation become extraordinary.

(My daughter took the photo above with her Polaroid i531. Her photo of Lincoln is part of this video.)


  1. You touched a very sweet spot in me, DC is where I was born and I spent many hours at the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, this is like going home. I'm delighted you spent time with your daughter and she was able to share her view with you, through the camera.

    As far as finding flaws in those who we consider great, or not great, for that matter, I think that is just another view of fear showing it's face, we as humans like to see others as weak, in order to make us feel better. Strange...humans.

    Enjoy your day!

  2. Washington, DC is an amazing place. As a naturalized citizen, perhaps I look at its monuments through different eyes than someone who was born in the US. I truly appreciate the freedoms we enjoy here and I love being an American. I also understand a few of her faults from an "outsider's" point of view.

    Thanks for sharing this post. I really enjoyed your Advent video too. :~D

    Blessings, e-Mom

  3. That is a great photo taken by your daughter. DC is a great place to visit. Thanks for sharing your trip with us.

  4. Anonymous5:23 PM

    I'm glad you got to D.C. I love going there. There is so much to see and do. You never get to see everything. I have walked to Lincoln and then to Jefferson and I'm so glad I did. Love Mom

  5. Anonymous9:49 AM

    "That so many monuments consist of larger-than-life figures surrounded by their own words carved into the walls speaks to the value we place on thought and lives built on the values and goals expressed in those thoughts."

    Exactly. You know, there are many statues that are meant to be monuments, and while those statues clearly represent respect for those people, it's when you add the building and the words that the monuments become that much more incredible.

    If anything happened to those monuments in DC, it would be so very tragic. They were built by those before us as a way for them to show respect and honor to those before them, and present us with a measure of what they want us to know that they thought important.

    There are a few statues that have gone up during our days here that, while probably all appropriate, I wouldn't give a second thought too if anything happened to them. There is not the same power or awe or reverence for them.


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