Among the Cherry Blossoms in Washington, D.C.

Rick Steves: Celebrating the arrival of spring and powerful words on a visit to the FDR Memorial

03.30.10 | 2:56 PM ET

Cherry blossoms in Washington D.C. Cherry blossoms in Washington D.C. (iStockPhoto)

Yesterday I was walking around the Tidal Basin to celebrate the arrival of the cherry blossoms while visiting my daughter Jackie in Washington, D.C. We popped into the FDR Memorial, and I was blindsided by how it inspired me.

Aware of all the rancor lately in our capital city, I lost myself in the natural and thought-provoking space of the four outdoor rooms of the memorial. It was a misty morning. While this memorial lacked the grandiose feel of the nearby Jefferson Memorial, the Roosevelt Memorial swept me away: heavy stones, cascading waterfalls (the challenge of troubled waters, and then life and hope), tangled vines, bronze statues of salt-of-the-earth people bearing hard times, and memories of a great statesman who inspired a nation to be both strong and civilized.

Depression, war and fear gripped our nation then as it does now. And Roosevelt, rather than using more fear and scapegoats, reminded us that “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” With his leadership and New Deal, he appealed to our higher nature to inspire greatness in our citizenry. The quotes chipped into the rustic stone walls on the misty stroll struck me. Their wisdom seemed both timeless and timely. And with the perspective provided by the passage of a little time, the way our country’s “Greatest Generation” responded then gave me hope that we can still make FDR proud. Let these quotes take you on a 2010 walk with FDR, as they did me:

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

“In these days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose the path of social justice, the path of faith, the path of hope, and the path of love toward our fellow men.”—From a campaign address, Detroit, Michigan, Oct. 2, 1932

“Men and nature must work hand in hand. The throwing out of balance of the resources of nature throws out of balance also the lives of men.”—From a Message to Congress on the Use of Our Natural Resources, Washington, D.C., January 24, 1935

“I propose to create a Civilian Conservation Corps to be used in simple work; more important, however, than the material gains will be the moral and spiritual value of such work.”—From a Message to Congress on Unemployment Relief, Washington, D.C., March 21, 1933

“I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.”—From an address at Chautauqua, New York, Aug. 14, 1936

“More than an end to war, we want an end to the beginnings of all wars.”—From an undelivered address prepared for Jefferson Day to be delivered April 13, 1945

“Unless the peace that follows recognizes that the whole world is one neighborhood and does justice to the whole human race, the germs of another world war will remain as a constant threat to mankind.”—From an address to White House Correspondents’ Association, Washington, D.C., Feb.12, 1943

Travel—whether abroad or in our own country—roughs up the surface of our outlook so lessons stick better. I’m so glad Jackie studies in Washington, D.C., so, together, we get to explore our nation’s capital.

Rick Steves

Rick Steves writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. He is the author of Travel as a Political Act.

3 Comments for Among the Cherry Blossoms in Washington, D.C.

Grizzly Bear Mom 04.01.10 | 5:54 PM ET

FDR’s memorial is a mecca to the disabled.  Gum drop sized Braille points have been polished to a shine by the fingers of the many he inspires.

Susan Simmons 04.05.10 | 11:57 AM ET

I toured the Tidal Basin Saturday. When we got to the FDR Memorial I, too, was touched by the quotes and statuary. Last night I posted to my Facebook page a picture the FDR quote: “In these days of difficulty…” I commented : “I have been troubled by the level of rancor generated by both sides in the recent political debate. Please read this inscription from the FDR memorial and remember we all just want what is best for our country.”

I was online trying to find the source of the quote when I came across your blog. Amazing that we both had the same reaction to this poignant memorial and used the same word “rancor” to describe the current tenor of debate. I am getting quite a response to my note…even more than my pictures of Cherry Blossoms!

Thanks for the source info.


louiz 04.10.10 | 2:41 PM ET


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