Justice O'Connor Installs "Footprints" Poem
By John D. Spalding
Washington, D.C., Sept. 4--Visitors and federal employees entering the Supreme Court Building this morning gazed with a mixture of curiosity and disbelief at the massive bronze plaque that now stands inside the Court's main entrance facing the Capitol Building. The sculpture, which measures 18-feet tall by 6-feet wide, is inscribed with the famous inspirational "Footprints" poem loved by millions of Christians around the world.
Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor installed the poem last night, without notice or permission. The sculpture depicts a beach scene in which two sets of footprints trail the coastline, eventually merging into one pair. The poem describes God as a friend in times of need, and the words are written in calligraphy, rather like an inscription on a Hallmark card.
"It looks kind of funny there," said Carl Williams, a janitor who has worked at the building for 35 years. "It's not bad or anything," he added, scanning the adjacent double row of august marble columns and busts of former Chief Justices. "It just looks, you know, a little out of place."
The poem, written in 1964 by Margaret Fishback Powers but long attributed to Anonymous on millions of plaques, cards and posters, describes a dream in which the narrator views her life in terms of two sets of footprints in the sand. One set belongs to the narrator; the other to the Lord. The narrator notices that at times of greatest hardship there was only one set of footprints, so she asks the Lord why he had abandoned her when she needed him most. "When you saw only one set of footprints," the Lord reassures her, "it was then that I carried you."
"For years I've kept a little plaque of the 'Footprints' poem on my kitchen window sill," O'Connor explained to reporters. "And every time I read it, it puts a smile on my heart. I wanted visitors to the Court to have the same smile on their hearts. And the Great Hall is so stuffy and serious," she added. "I thought the 'Footprints' poem would lighten it up, and remind people that when our burden is great, God does all the heavy lifting."
Speaking of heavy lifting, O'Connor would not elaborate on how she managed to install the plaque, which consists of six sections weighing 800 to 1,000 pounds each. "Let's just say it involved a lot of pulleys and a blowtorch," said the judge, who looked tired and had a smudge of soot on her chin. "I was here working on it till 5 a.m., then I went home for a quick nap and a shower."
Installing the poem, O'Connor said, was much easier than creating it. "I spent months working on it in my garage at night," she said. "There's a lot of detail in that plaque. Getting the waves just right was no day at the beach!"
Justice O'Connor's creation is certain to reignite the controversy surrounding the Ten Commandments monument that Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore secretly installed in the state Supreme Court two years ago. Last week, Justice Moore refused to remove the 5,280-pound Christian monument after a federal court ruled that it violated the separation of church and state. Justice Moore was suspended with pay, and last Wednesday the monument was moved to a room out of public view, as dozens of Christian protestors cried and prayed on the building's steps, vowing not to let the issue die. Moore plans to take his case to the Supreme Court next month.
O'Connor named Justice Moore as an inspiration for her plaque. "At first I thought his Ten Commandments violated the Establishment Clause," said Justice O'Connor. "But the more I thought about it I realized that he just wants to 'acknowledge God,' and what a creative way to do it. That's when the light bulb went on--'Footprints'!"
"If I was a Buddhist," she added, "I suppose I might have put up a big gold statue of a smiling Buddha, the kind you rub for luck in Chinese restaurants."
So far, O'Connor's handiwork has received enthusiastic support from her colleagues on the high bench. "I think the plaque complements the building's bronze doors wonderfully," said Justice Clarence Thomas. "And she did a great job with the sand on the beach. It looks real enough to dip your toes in!"
"We had no idea she was so talented," said Justice Antonin Scalia. "But then we all have our hobbies. Mine is wood sculpture. I just finished a 12-foot-tall carving of the Madonna and Child that would go great next to Justice holding the sword and scales."