all of the selves we Have ever been
History…is a larger way of looking at life. It is a source of strength, of inspiration. It is about who we are and what we stand for and is essential to our understanding of what our own role should in in our time. History, as can’t be said too often, is human. It is about people, and they speak to us across the years.
-- David McCullough, The American Spirit
It seems Abraham Lincoln has been doing a lot of talking lately. In our time of dramatic social strife, it has become popular for politicians of every stripe to invoke the name and words of Lincoln who warned us that a house divided against itself cannot stand. While Lincoln’s words remain brilliant, offering insight and direction, I sometimes find myself offended by the name-dropping. Some of those invoking the late President’s name need to clean up their acts if they want to associate with Lincoln.
Ask a child to name a president, and the child will likely name Washington or Lincoln. They are both memorable, one for being the first to hold the office, and the other for not becoming the last. They were leaders at remarkable moments in history. I doubt there is a person of my generation who did not cut out at least one construction paper silhouette of either president.
Lincoln’s words come back to us at this time of division both nationally and within the Republican Party, but Lincoln remains appealing for many reasons. Foremost, he was one of us. He knew difficult times. Lincoln came from humble beginnings, and his family moved several times. Lincoln knew how to do hard physical labor. Though his parents were illiterate, Lincoln was determined to be self-educated and was known to walk miles to borrow a book. He knew the pain of childhood grief. His biological mother died when Lincoln was nine years old. He had the disappointment of a marriage proposal declined, and later, experienced a break-up of a relationship with Mary Todd that left Lincoln depressed and despondent. After the two reconciled and married, they had four children. Only one child lived to adulthood. Lincoln lost his share of elections before winning the White House, and throughout his life, he continued to suffer recurring bouts of depression. His wife, Mary Todd, also suffered from psychological problems and, after Lincoln’s death, she was declared insane.
When I think of Lincoln, I think of someone very human. I think of intelligence, faith, humility, compassion, endurance, and resilience. Lincoln’s brand was authenticity. He understood the importance of words carefully chosen and delivered in the right place at the right time. In the absence of Twitter and social media, he had many timely and memorable things to say. He was an influencer who has stood the test of time. Ryan Holiday in his book, The Obstacle is the Way, wrote: Lincoln’s words went to the people’s hearts because they came from his, because he had access to a part of the human experience that many walled themselves off from. His personal pain was an advantage.
Despite the gravity of the times in which he lived, Lincoln maintained a sharp wit and a sense of humor, qualities that we can sure use now. Described as tall, lanky, homely, emaciated-looking, awkward, and downright ugly, Lincoln said: If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?
Honestly, Abe. We love your face! Happy Birthday.