Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Real heroes: take a moment today to remember Abraham Lincoln

Posted by John Keller

Today is Abraham Lincoln's birthday, which tragically seems to have fallen out of style. When I was a kid, everyone got the day off -- Feb. 12. Now his birthday has been homogenized into presidents day, a time for car dealer sales during the winter doldrums.

I don't take Lincoln's birthday off anymore, but I still celebrate it. We are who we are largely because of him.

Before Lincoln, we said "the United States are ..." After Lincoln we say "the United States is ..." Before Lincoln we were a collection of states. He gave the word Union real, even sacred meaning. Now we're one country. Some people would like to think that we're still just a collection of languages, races, genders, liberals, conservatives, and whatever else, but we're clearly one country now, and it's because of Abraham Lincoln.

He wouldn't quit, even though many people wanted him to -- including one man who for a time commanded all of the U.S. Army during the fight for Union in the Civil War. Lincoln was tortured with mayhem, blood, and fratricide on an unimaginable scale for four years, all because it was his solemn conviction that the United States was too precious to let be destroyed.

Few people could make a point like Lincoln. Most of us when we remember him think of the Gettysburg Address -- that marvelous nugget of brevity that so clearly captures the quintessential American Struggle.

Believe it or not, however, The Gettysburg Address is not my favorite piece by Lincoln. My favorite is the so-called "Widow Bixby Letter," which just as clearly lays out the depth of human struggle that Lincoln and many, many other Americans endured to help make us what we are today.

On that note, I'll leave you with Lincoln's words in the Widow Bixby letter, which was published in the Boston Transcript on 25 Nov. 1864 -- the same day Mrs. Bixby received it:

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts, that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A. Lincoln

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