March 7, 2013

What would President Lincoln do?

I've been thinking a lot lately about the fate of our nation, as we seem so bitterly divided on so many fronts.  One hundred and fifty years ago we were divided by the Civil War and the question of states' rights, and now we are facing deep political and economic divisions.  No matter where your beliefs lie, I think we can all agree that we are living in difficult and troubling times, with no easy solutions in sight. 

I recently watched the wonderfully gifted actor Daniel Day-Lewis give a beautiful acceptance speech at the Oscars for his  portrayal of our sixteenth president in Lincoln.  He gave a powerful performance as the leader who pulled us through a catastrophic period in our country's history. Thinking about Lincoln over the last few days reminded me of the several visits I've made over the years to Springfield, Illinois, and Abe and Mary's home before they left for Washington. The President, departing for the nation's capitol, said “I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington."
Abraham Lincoln left his home of seventeen years (1844-1861) to serve as president of a nation on the verge of Civil War. When he returned, it was to be entombed at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield.  There is an incredible backstory to his final resting spot that I'll share with you another day. 

My parents were passionate about traveling and sharing the beauty and history of this great country with my siblings and me.  Here we are on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial outside his tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery. 

A full stairstep of siblings!

My brother Bruce

My brother Brock

I wonder if President Lincoln still paces in Springfield, and what advice he could give us about our current troubles.  I'd like to think in his humble, self-deprecating way he could help us navigate these stormy waters and find a safe harbor for all of us.

Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight

(In Springfield, Illinois)

It is portentous, and a thing of state
That here at midnight, in our little town
A mourning figure walks, and will not rest,
Near the old court-house pacing up and down.

Or by his homestead, or in shadowed yards
He lingers where his children used to play,
Or through the market, on the well-worn stones
He stalks until the dawn-stars burn away.

A bronzed, lank man! His suit of ancient black,
A famous high top-hat and plain worn shawl
Make him the quaint great figure that men love,
The prairie-lawyer, master of us all.

He cannot sleep upon his hillside now.
He is among us:—as in times before!
And we who toss and lie awake for long
Breathe deep, and start, to see him pass the door.

His head is bowed. He thinks on men and kings.
Yea, when the sick world cries, how can he sleep?
Too many peasants fight, they know not why,
Too many homesteads in black terror weep.

The sins of all the war-lords burn his heart.
He sees the dreadnaughts scouring every main.
He carries on his shawl-wrapped shoulders now
The bitterness, the folly and the pain.

He cannot rest until a spirit-dawn
Shall come;—the shining hope of Europe free;
The league of sober folk, the Workers' Earth,
Bringing long peace to Cornland, Alp and Sea.

It breaks his heart that kings must murder still,
That all his hours of travail here for men
Seem yet in vain.   And who will bring white peace
That he may sleep upon his hill again?

1 comment:

  1. Your family photos added alot to this post - Thank you for sharing them~