This past Sunday morning, we arrived with our weekend guests at the Washington National Cathedral just as the service was beginning and quickly found seats. Almost immediately, we noticed the attractive tourist family in the row immediately in front of us. They seemed to be typical tourists — him in his flowered shirt, shorts and running shoes, her in her jeans skirt, rose-colored knit shirt and sandals. The two older children were in t-shirts and khakis. They were all clean cut but on the casual side.
Despite their typical appearance, it gradually became apparent that this was not your average family of tourists in Washington to see the sights.
After the service, when we were complimenting the parents on their well-mannered children, we learned that the family had journeyed to Washington for the burial of the wife’s father in Arlington National Cemetery earlier in the week. Her father was a Vietnam veteran, and she proudly related the fact that he had won the Silver Star for valor in combat.
Many visitors, like us, view the magnificent edifice of the National Cathedral, hear the wondrous choir and organ, worship with people from around the country, and then return home with nothing more than photographs to illustrate the majesty of the cathedral and scribbled notes about the sermon they heard. But seeing the couple with their three children was a lasting image for our minds and hearts on this Sunday morning. For one thing, though they were not in a familiar setting and had no children’s books or toys to keep them occupied, the two older children’s quiet and respectful behavior spoke volumes about what they had been taught; they clearly had more than a little experience with being calm and orderly during Sunday worship. Snuggled in her carrier on the seat between the mother and father, the youngest child, an infant, slept undisturbed.
Anyone not watching closely would have missed the moment when the switch in seating arrangement was made. During an opening hymn, in a move as smooth as any quarterback’s handoff to his running back, the father shifted the baby’s carrier to his own seat and moved to stand by his wife. He handled the baby carrier with such strength and deftness that it was clear the role of protector was ingrained. Later on when the infant opened its incredibly bright eyes, the father, with sure hand, nudged the pacifier back into her mouth so gently that she fell back asleep almost immediately. Her dark eyes were so beautiful; it was a bit disappointing to have only the briefest glimpse of them. But it was wonderful to think of a little one so carefully protected and obviously cherished that it was not discomforted in the least by all that was going on around her.