The best monuments inspire

Published 9:51 pm Friday, April 13, 2018

By Thurman Hayes

Although I had been to Washington, D.C., several times in the last decade, I had not visited the monuments in recent years. So last week, as we ventured down to the Tidal Basin to see the cherry blossoms, we decided to visit a few of the monuments on the National Mall.

I was not prepared for the emotional impact it would have. My father, who died in 2002, was a naval veteran of World War II. As we walked down into the World War II Memorial, which is filled with fountains and granite pillars, I suddenly found my eyes filling with tears. I was thinking about my dad, and that “greatest generation,” born in the years of the Great Depression, then thrust into a cauldron of war like the world has never seen.

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I looked up and saw the words of Admiral Nimitz engraved on the granite wall: “They fought together as brothers-in-arms, they died together and now they sleep side by side. To them we have a solemn obligation.”

This is the thing about the best monuments — they not only help us remember something that happened in one generation, but they offer an inspiring challenge to future generations. What kind of world are we building now? Is it worthy of those who died?

We then walked the length of the Reflecting Pool. As I reflected, I shared with one of our daughters about the sacrifices of her grandfather. We then walked up the steps to the Lincoln Memorial.

Before walking into the memorial, I thought of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, which was delivered from those very steps. We happened to be in D.C. on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination. It was so sad to think that the man who spoke those incredible words was cut down by a bullet just a few years later.

We then walked into Lincoln Memorial, dedicated to one of our greatest presidents, also cut down by an assassin’s bullet. One of Lincoln’s gifts was his ability to craft incredibly powerful speeches, and two of his greatest are on the walls of his Memorial. On the left wall is the Gettysburg Address, and on the right is his Second Inaugural Address. Both are masterpieces. Both show that speeches don’t have to be long to resonate with prophetic power. Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address has long been my favorite speech of all time, because of its deep theological reflections. “With malice toward none, with charity for all…”

We then drifted down to the Vietnam Wall. My wife’s father is a Vietnam veteran, so this was especially meaningful for her. And I was able to explain to our daughter the significance of what her other grandfather had done. We walked the length of the wall, on which are engraved the names of 57,939 souls who died there. It was a powerful experience.

Later in the day, we also passed by the relatively new memorial to MLK, where I was especially struck by these words, spoken by Dr. King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

What will future generations say about us? Will we rise to the moment? Will we be instruments of light and love, or darkness and hate?

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr. is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.