While I live in the 'Land of Lincoln' I'm quite poorly educated on Abe's legacy. I mean, I know what we all know about him; he grew up in a log cabin, he taught himself to read, he was tall and looked good with a beard and big black hat.
Yesterday I had the privileged to accompany my son's 5th grade field trip to Lincoln's Tomb, our State Capital and The Lincoln Museum. And while 1 little bus trip hardly offers a proper education I learned more than I signed up for.
In the museum's White House, our stroll was guided through Abraham Lincoln's life story. He lived quite a terrible story. He was horrendously riduculed for his height and appearance. The jokes at his expense during his presidental campaign were cruel. People were convinced if he were to succeed and get elected as president, that our country would be destroyed.
And it almost was. The Civil War literally tore our nation in two. But war was not the only thing to cause Abe great pain. On the evening he and his wife, Mary were hosting one of Washington's greatest dinner parties to date, their sick son lay in bed. Often Abe and Mary left the party and 500 guests to be at Tad's bedside. Their buried their 9 year old son shortly after. It was not the first child they had buried. It would not be the last.
Death loomed over President Lincoln as well. When he entered Washington D.C. it was in disguise as the death threats on his life began as soon as he was elected president. And of course we know that he was in fact assassinated at the height of his political career.
The Lincoln's oldest son began a campaign to ruin his mother's reputation. He wanted others to believe his mother was crazy so he could collect her wealth. He burned her journals and letters. There are very few artifacts that remain from Mary Todd. We could know so much more but most of it is lost in the ashes of history.
I knew none of this about our 16th President. I only knew he stood up against slavery. I knew the north won and I know his profile lines our pennies. We herald Abraham Lincoln as a hero. We've built monuments to him and we teach all the kindergareners about his great accomplishments every February President's Day.
But I can't stop thinking about his story. Would Abe have said that it was all worth it? I mean, it's easy for us to say from the window of time that it was - it was worth it. But isn't that because we sacrificed nothing. We paid nothing for the cost of his great lost. Heck, we don't even pay attention to it.
Of course every red, white & blue blooded American understands we are better off today because of the bravery of so many others, Abraham Lincoln included. I guess what I am trying to articulate is this hero in our history books was more than a figure in our country's heritage. He was a man living out his own story.
So what about us? Maybe we're not the next president of anything - or chances are good that no history book will ever include my name, but we understand suffering don't we? Most of us have tasted the bitterness of betrayal. Maybe you've been ridiculed, forgotten, stood by a grave side or doubted whether you were even doing the right thing with your life's decisions. But I think all those things are ok...they don't FEEL ok but they are nonetheless.
I wish I would have understood in my 20's what I've learned the hard way in my 30's on the eve of my 40's; the journey includes failure. It can't NOT include failures. I now understand that without failure our journey is nothing but a weak, boring empty story. While the drama that encompassed Abraham Lincoln's life was extreme, it also includes a fantastic story of bravery, patriotism and moral belief. And I happy for this reminder. Life, even for our hero's, is difficult and unless you treat failure as a part of the journey you will never make it anywhere. I hope I am going somewhere.
|2010 Lincoln Memorial, Springfield, IL|