Wednesday, November 20, 2013

2013.11.20 Thank You Mr. Lincoln

The famed Gettysburg Address was delivered by America’s 16th President, Abraham Lincoln,   November 19, 1863 at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Lincoln’s words remain wise and true, a good example of spiritual writing, not just because he used religious vocabulary, like “consecrate” and “hallow” and "perish,"  but because he went right to the heart and soul of what mattered most to him, personally as the leader of a vast war-torn and bloodied country, but also to Americans whose identity and future depended on keeping alive its founding vision as written in the Declaration of Independence of 1776—87 (four score and seven) years earlier.  

Founding events are important, defining, like the Exodus for Jews, Jesus Christ for Christians, or Muhammed for Islam.  Even individuals have such spiritual touchstones. Mine, as many of you know, was meeting God under the table as a child and learning, unequivocally, that I mattered, no matter what.  What is yours?

Near miraculous to me as a writer is that Lincoln spoke the essence of what mattered in just 272 words!!!  (He'd have loved Twitter.) Oh, envy! I have not a brevity bone in my body, as you can see.  I plan to channel Lincoln as I attempt to get my memoir manuscript’s pages over the transom of a publishing house—in just 250 words. 

When asked in junior high who we thought was the greatest person in the world, I wrote Abraham Lincoln without hesitation.  Later, I felt a twinge of guilt that I hadn’t written Jesus Christ, but I didn’t know him very well yet. Even later, I felt another twinge that I hadn’t written a woman’s name, but all I could think of was Jane Eyre. I suppose therein were planted some early feminist seeds: why were all the upfront famous figures men?  

Lincoln said all men were created equal, as was the linguistic habit of his day. But why couldn’t we just say what we meant? Even at 14 I knew we weren’t all equal. Who lives all the way up to their vision?  We try. Yet I knew from my childhood experience that women were included in the equality vision. Girls mattered to Godde. 

To travel to Gettysburg, Lincoln left a fevered son and a distraught wife. He was exhausted with war, politics and from writing personal letters to everyone who wrote to him in their bereavement.  Then he stayed up all night working on his speech, which he read to a crowd of 20,000 from a single handwritten page. When he finished there was a long silence, followed by thunderous applause. And on the way home he contracted small pox, from which he recovered.

Lincoln was right about the “people.” That day they were the voice; they were the government;  they knew the vision had to prevail And they were the ones, on all sides of the issue, who sacrificed the most for the vision.  The biblical Book of Proverbs proclaims: Without a vision the people perish—all the people.  Lincoln knew that. And Jesus knew that. Both men died for the vision but so far neither our nation not Christianity has perished. It’s close.

I leave you with the words of a great man, and a vision to remember. It’s a prayer. Do you think that if we pray it we will come closer to living it, to uniting under it?  Can we feel compassion—for all?

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
 

"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
 

"But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."