Friday, September 17, 2010

8/28 Rally, Part II, Playing the Tourist Role

When going to a place like Washington, D.C., one almost feels morally obligated to hit as many of the popular tourist attractions as possible. This is true no matter the fact that, concerning one’s own home town, with plenty of tourist attractions of its own, one remains almost totally ignorant. In my own case, I’ve never visited Seven Falls, or the Cave of the Winds, or even driven up the Pikes Peak Highway, and may never. They’re too close to home, and too easy to go see to rate a visit, I guess. 

So, even though we had been to DC several times in the somewhat distant past, we managed some time at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Museum of American History on Friday, before the Rally, and Sunday, after the Rally.

At the Air and Space Museum I felt the pang of regret that I feel whenever I see an airplane on display. I learned to fly before I graduated from high school and, especially as I grow older, there is something in me that hates to see an airplane in a museum. Several of the planes that were there were ones that were flying, I could even say, still flying, as I was growing up. Two particular examples, the Stagger-Wing Beech and the DC 3.

I understand that, given the hazards of regular use, examples of these old airplanes might be lost for future generations to see. Keeping them on display can give those open to such thoughts a perspective on just how far and how fast technology has progressed during the last hundred years or so. Just as an example of technological progress, in the picture with the X-15 in the foreground, you can see the Spirit of St Louis and Virgin’s Spaceship 1, the first private venture into space. The technology here spans the time from 1927 into the early 21st century, a remarkable display. Still, they were made to fly and I always feel a twinge of sadness to see them hanging from the ceiling in a building in Washington.

At the Smithsonian Museum of American History, actually an annex thereof, there was a wide variety of subjects covered in the displays, from early electrical generators to chemical research to transportation. As we were going through the displays something struck me, beauty. Even the very early designs for commercial electrical generators we designed, very obviously, with an eye to beauty. It was readily apparent that great attention had been paid to every detail and that functionality was not the prime consideration. The gears and other parts and pieces were really pleasing to look at. Even locomotives were built with careful attention to detail. Quality was evident everywhere I looked.
The desire for beauty and finding beauty in everyday life is a very Benedictine notion. Looking beyond mere functionality and doing things well is, I think, part of living the Rule and I couldn’t help but think of that as we continued through the museum. It’s, like much else in Benedictine spirituality, a natural part of human life; we’re drawn, almost in spite of ourselves, to beauty as a reflection of God’s love in our lives. As I thought about it, it dawned on me that that’s part of the reason I hate to see airplanes in museums. In many cases, they were beautifully designed to do what they do. It was a very welcome reminder of the truth and importance of Benedict’s Rule, written so long ago.

As for most of Friday, we spent that at the American’s for Prosperity Summit in Washington. What can you say about political meetings with lots of political speeches? It seems they are all the same and it was no different at the AFP meetings we attended. We did hear speeches from several bona fide celebrities, including Dick Morris, Virginia Governor, Bob McDonnell, and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. There were two, however, that stood out. One from Herman Cain and the other from George Will.

Herman Cain is a radio talk show host and Fox News contributor. His speech was, like the others mostly political, but in the last 10 minutes or so he spoke of his fight to survive stage 4 cancer (cancer in two or more organs). When his doctor told him of the diagnosis, he asked her what that meant. She told him, “That’s as bad as it gets.” He said he decided to get a second opinion. At this point, he began to take on the persona of a black preacher and really put his heart into his talk. The second doctor he went to also told him, “It’s as bad as it gets.” But this doctor wasn’t ready to give up; he suggested a course of treatment. Mr. Cain said that after this, he began to see signs from God, the first of which was that the second doctor’s name was Lord. As he went on and gave the details of his treatment and survival, he told a story of real trust in God and love for God. It was very moving and if you ever get a chance to hear him speak, please go. You won’t be sorry.

The other speaker was the Keynote address that evening by the columnist, George Will. Will was a professor, I’m guessing of history, before he was a columnist and his speaking style is very much that of a scholarly, intellectual, history professor. I’m always up for that. Will, however, is also a baseball enthusiast, and he told several humorous stories about baseball to make the political points that were also very much part of his speech. I’ll share one with you.

It seems there was a rookie pitcher who faced the immortal Rogers Hornsby toward the end of Hornsby’s career. The pitcher threw three pitches, each of which, in truth, caught the outside of the plate. The umpire, however, called each one a ball. The rookie protested, “Mr. Umpire, those pitches were strikes.” The umpire answered, “Son, if any of those pitches had been strikes, Mr. Hornsby would have let you know.” Hornsby had established himself as a true professional who would not slack off, even when facing the rawest rookie challenger.

Is there a lesson from all this? I’d say the big impression on me was the excitement and enthusiasm of the crowd. They were fired up to say the least. When telling points against the other side were made, standing ovations almost always followed. It was as if the crowd believed that, simply by making those points, the speakers were vanquishing the forces of darkness and ushering in a regime that would reestablish the primacy of truth, justice and the American way. I think that remains to be seen, but the excitement and energy of the crowd was hugely impressive. By the time the evening was over, I was wondering what the morrow would bring.

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