Saturday, September 1, 2018

Still Life with Robin: The Big Neighbor

Washington National Cathedral
Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid

by Peggy Robin

Being a good neighbor can sometimes call for patience and forbearance. You’ll need it when your neighbors have a newborn and you live in an apartment building with too-thin walls. Babies cry. They can keep it up for hours, and there are times when it seems nothing can soothe them. And then they grow up and the parents throw a graduation party bringing in a hundred cars all needing parking wherever they can get it, even if it blocks your driveway. Well, you’ve just got to smile and tell yourself, they have reason to celebrate….and it’s just one night. All night. With a loud band.

Things get trickier when your neighbor is much more than a family. What if it’s a large institution, like a university? Then you can’t exactly waltz over, ring the doorbell, and ask them to turn down the music. You’ll be lucky if they’ve given you the number of a community liaison, someone whose job is to listen to neighbors like you complain. And maybe even ticket or tow the cars when they’re blocking your driveway. And invite you in for a wine and cheese reception a couple of times a year. That should help to ease those inevitable annoyances that occur throughout the year, especially around matriculation and commencement.

And now we come to the biggest and likely the grandest of the institutional neighbors in Cleveland Park -- the Washington National Cathedral. As an institution founded upon the concept of “Love thy neighbor,” it has a lot to live up to. In the normal course of events, it is open and welcoming. It throws a big, fun fair, twice a year, that’s always a hit with the kids. And there’s an underground parking garage to take care of much of the car traffic it generates. Is it an imposition on the neighbors to have such a huge tourist draw sitting smack in the middle of a low-scale, quiet residential neighborhood? Of course it is (with over 400,000 visitors a year, how could it not be?) -- but then the neighbors have to remember, it was here first – getting those first stones laid down in 1907, long before anyone reading this was born. 

There’s only so much quiet you can expect from a venue seating over 4,000, and having a carillon and ten peal bells. There will be crowds. There will be cars. There will be buses. There will be bell-ringing. And whenever there is an event that brings in thousands, in cars and buses, and with bells and choirs and lots of dignitaries needing security….well, there will be blocked off streets and inconvenience for the neighbors. And we shouldn’t complain. When the cause of the inconvenience is the funeral of a national hero such as John McCain, we will do our small part, which is to be tolerant of the traffic mess. It’s for the greater good of the country that we must avoid driving down our neighborhood streets for a part of a day.

So on this Saturday morning we should be thankful to have this grand institution in our midst to serve its sad and dignified purpose so well.

[For the MPD press release on street closings, see ]

Still Life with Robin is posted on the Cleveland ParkListserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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