Happy Birthday, Mr. Washington!

The Prayer at Valley Forge by Arnold Friberg (1913-2010)

Today we celebrate the birthday of a childless man who fathered our nation: George Washington. For  each of the past four years our family has made the pilgrimage to Mount Vernon to pay our respects, stroll the grounds of his plantation overlooking the Potomac, and eat peanut soup. (Okay, we tried the peanut soup last year and didn’t like it that much.)

Washington was a private man who lived a life of public service. He never wrote his autobiography, likely because he feared that as a self-taught Virginia farm boy he couldn’t compete in literary matters with peers like Thomas Jefferson, the polymath, and Bejamin Franklin, the practical sage.

If I could pick a word to describe Washington it would be the Latin word “gravitas” from which we get our word “gravity.” It’s difficult to translate into English, but it means something like “dignity.” Washington was a military commander and statesman par excellence. And according to at least one recent historian, he may have been a truly devout Christian, not a Deist as is often claimed (Lillback, George Washington’s Sacred Fire, 2006).

So happy birthday, Mr. Washington!


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