Today was the height of the ever so brief National Cherry Blossom season. I normally take a sort of suburban, somewhat distant notice of the cherry trees along the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC when this magic day arrives…..when the thousands of trees bloom all along the Potomac River. After all, they were donated to the United States by the Japanese as a friendly gesture over 100 years ago. The well-attended Cherry Blossom Festival has occurred annually since 1935 and countless tourists flock to the city to glimpse the synchronized beauty of the Yoshino and Kwanzan blossoms during a two-week reign.
But this year I took more than a usual slight interest. My 83-year-old mother accompanied me to the historical Decatur House at Lafayette Square to explore this venue for a daughter’s wedding reception. Located downtown, the facility required us to drive through a blanket of beautiful rosy pink and white double blossoms. My mother was delighted beyond description, and I appreciated the glory of this city as never before.
Yet I was not left to enjoy the scenery for long. Strong, unsettling images captured me as I recalled the face of a little boy toddling in the local DC General Emergency Family Shelter hallway just a few weeks earlier. He was irritable and congested with a mucous-filled cold, and he whimpered as if he were hungry. A twelve-year-old, matured beyond her innocent age, clutched the hand of her little sister, blinking cautiously as she barely attempted to dream up a better future. A young mother expressed deep gratitude for her family’s stay in the old, renovated facility, then described how hard it was to live without a bathtub, in one room, with her two children and all of their limited possessions. She prayed every day for a home for her family….she hoped that this would happen soon.
The recollections are intrusive. There are no flowers there. None. There are no tourists and interested persons. Just silence. The stark contrast of reality in this incredible, potent, wealthy city reveals its very weakness. We are no better than how we treat our children, no matter the circumstance of their birth. Every child deserves a childhood. In a civil society, every child gains one. With the dramatic background of blossoming flowers borne out of international friendship, and with satisfied, enthusiastic visitors from around the world, we need not forget that every child in our midst, regardless of social status, needs a safe and stable home.