Washington, D.C., has a profound symmetry. A stately and precise cardinal line runs from the Capitol dome through the Lincoln Memorial, and large temples to knowledge and democracy flank its sides. To walk through the National Mall is be immersed in a proud American tradition. But this symmetry is more than geometric.
There is a spot near the old Lee mansion in Arlington National Cemetery that offers an unobstructed view of the National Mall. Step to the edge of the hill and approach a panorama that includes the Capitol dome, the Washington Monument, and the memorials for Lincoln and Jefferson. On a lucid autumn day, it's a meditative site. And it is here that Washington's symmetry becomes apparent.
To the east stand those proud edifices, the iconography of the country's heritage and prominence. To the west, beyond the river, are a quarter million or so smaller gravestones -- the implicit cost of these monoliths.
Arlington National Cemetery spreads out across the land like an American Valhalla. It's pristine and quiet, and set aside from the congestion of the capital. It is sacred and orderly. Neat rows of headstones appear along well-maintained lawns and lush landscaping. Tourists feel comfortable here and walk through its paths as though it were a botanical garden. Children have to be reminded by Arlington personnel not to run through the grounds. The ghosts that haunt this place are reassuring, not dreadful.
The Arlington Memorial Bridge draws a straight line from the Lincoln Memorial to the cemetery, slightly veering off the course of that stately east-west bisector. But the words "those honored dead," the ones inscribed so plainly in the Lincoln Memorial, truly resonate here.