Last Sunday afternoon, sitting in Burlington Square Park, it was easy to forget that Washington, D.C., even exists. We had stopped by to watch the dedication of Viquesney’s statue “The Spirit of the American Navy,” the companion piece to the statue named “The Spirit of the American Doughboy,” which has been in the park since the 1920s.
It was a cool but sunny afternoon, very few leaves had begun to change, and the only reminder that the U.S. government was shut down, furloughing hundreds of thousands of federal workers, was the absence of a Navy band, which was not allowed to attend. Since the dedication had been specifically planned for the 238th anniversary of the Navy, that seemed especially ironic and regrettable.
But the Naperville Municipal Band was there, looking sharp in their blue uniforms, and there were a number of men in Naval officer uniforms in the crowd, along with some older veterans. It was in fact a living, breathing Norman Rockwell painting with a few men in business suits, some women in sweaters, a couple of people walking to the Metra station who stopped to watch, and a couple with a little dog.
Moments like that are a big part of the reason many of us live in Naperville, and I remember thinking how remarkable it was that nobody had to explain why installing that statue was good for the town or defend spending the money to make it a fitting complement to the doughboy statue across the park.
There were no angry, paranoid people carrying insulting signs, who refuse to be part of anything that contributes to the common good. We have a few of those folks, of course, and having written this I will undoubtedly receive some nasty letters from them, but they are beginning to understand that this town is not a place where they can frighten people and incite resentment just so that they can recruit members into extreme political movements.
Naperville people have never been afraid to preserve what’s good from the past while embracing what’s good about the future. They applaud success while offering a generous hand up to those who have not yet achieved it, and they are increasingly accepting of those who may be very different from them, culture-wise and otherwise.
They had no trouble understanding why the sailor statue would enhance their town and why it would be worth the effort and expense, even though that kind of thing is sometimes a little hard to explain. The statue’s odyssey from Chicago to Pentwater, Mich., to Naperville was extremely unlikely, the money needed was considerable, and the schedule was challenging. Even so, people quickly contributed the critical last third of the money and the landscaper somehow got the granite pedestal and the rest of the statue’s installation done in time. That’s the kind of spirit we have here.
But I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the park watching our terrific band play who noted how remarkable our town is and wondered why Naperville and Washington are so different these days.
I can only assume that it’s because those people in the park actually practice lives of industry and self-reliance instead of simply preaching it as an excuse not to help the less fortunate. I can only assume that those people in the park celebrating the spirit of the American Navy are quiet patriots who have served their country honorably, instead of posturing chicken hawks who serve only their own political interests. And I can only assume that those men and women in the park are different because they put their country and their community first, instead of putting their own ambitions and their greed ahead of their nation’s welfare.