I’ve been reading Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, the story of Abraham Lincoln’s election, cabinet, the Civil War and his humanity. It has proven so very relevant today. Between yoga and work, this quote stopped me mid-slurp of coffee:
“As he had done so many times before, Lincoln withstood the storm of defeat by replacing anguish over an unchangeable past with hope in an uncharted future.”
So instead of curling my hair during my normal mad-dash toward the office, I kept soaking in the story until I got to this part:
“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.” – Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863
Lincoln was standing where a few months before, the stench of death and cannons lingered. Where fathers, sons, brothers and likely a few mothers, daughters and sisters breathed their last – felled not by bullet and fodder – but by hate, fear and an entitlement to call another person’s life less than one’s own life.
Reading this brought me to tears today.
Tears and a topknot left over from yoga…not a great way to fly to work. A good way to to soak up and respond to hard truths about who we were, who we are and the direction we seem to be headed as a nation.
Unless we choose to be the country we long-envisioned ourselves to be…and more: leaders, empowering, kind, hard-working, innovative and resembling the character and teachings of a largely homeless middle eastern carpenter of history.
Yeah. That America.
If our actions are truly our monuments, what do our actions – those standing stones – say about us as a country?
What will history say about us who live and act today?