Sunday, May 16, 2010

This Weekend Part 2: Moments of Grace

Most honeysuckle plants are blooming this week, which means this is one of my favorite weeks of the year. The smell of honeysuckle gives me the God feeling. You know - that deep longing for something you can't put your finger on. It's kind of like nostalgia, kind of like love, kind of like anticipation, but not really any of those things.

C.S. Lewis (and probably many people before him) used to say that that feeling proved the existence of God, because why would we spend all this time longing for something so vague and esoteric if we weren't designed to have a relationship with the divine?

I have no idea if he's right, but I do know that I feel that feeling whenever I smell honeysuckle. I also feel it at Gravelly Point park, where I took Matt for the first time this weekend. It's been more than 10 years since my dad took me there for the first time.

In some ways, Gravelly Point is very, very wrong. It's a public park on the end of the runway of DC's most important airport, where senators and congressmen and dignitaries fly in and out every day. Planes fly so low overhead that they're sometimes no more than 100 feet from you - easy weapons range. The park is accessible at all times of day and night. It's just one of many reasons National Airport is a disaster waiting to happen.

But it's also one of the best places in the country to sit and think about just how amazing air travel is. Watching these 200-ton pieces of metal take to the sky with hundreds of people on board, seeing the pilots make their initial giddy turns as the landing gear retracts, hearing the roar of the engines at close range, you can't help but think: I live in a time of miracles.

If you go anywhere near Gravelly Point's half dozen horribly-maintained port o' johns, the God feeling is somewhat diminished. Ick. All I can say is: if you bring a picnic, try not to drink too much. But go to this place if you can.

Another place that gives me the God feeling: a good cemetery. Any good cemetery. And I found a new one today: Holy Rood in Georgetown.

That's the Washington Monument in the distance.

And the National Cathedral.

I can't believe how long it took me to walk up to this place. I'd passed it for years and years--I think I first noticed it when I was 12--but always in a car on my way down to Georgetown. I assumed it was the churchyard for the Christian Science church a little up the way. I assumed it wouldn't be very big.

I was driving back to Arlington from the festival at St. Sophia's today and impulsively pulled over and got out and walked up the hill. What I saw took my breath away.

This is the best cemetery in Washington by far. It's as wild and green as the prettiest cemeteries in England--it actually looks a lot like Holywell in Oxford--and it's huge, full of tangled ancient yew trees and flocks of grackels and cracked tombstones, mostly from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Ninety percent of the names are Irish, so I'm guessing it was Catholic, but no one really comes to pay their respects anymore. It was utterly quiet when I was there; I couldn't believe I was still in Georgetown. One of the most familiar streets in the whole city was suddenly alien to me.

You can see the whole sweep of Washington here, from the monuments to Mount St. Alban. Seriously, if you're a cemetery geek like me, it will make you want to cry. Especially when you come home and read the Wikipedia entry on it and discover that it's now owned by Georgetown University, which wants to raze it and redevelop ASAP! @#$*&#$.

Go see it while you still can.

1 comment:

  1. Anna! I drove past this cemetery on Sunday with the girls I babysit, and I got into a very theological discussion with the five year old on the different types of gravestones and which sort of people choose which gravestone. I was totally flummoxed when she said, "Well, Jesus died on the biggest cross of all." There's nothing you can say after that, not even if you're Jewish. Seriously, I felt like saying, "Amen."