I went to Springfield, IL, with my wife and daughter to celebrate Presidents’ Day. My family and I seemed to be the only ones who did this. Disney World, Springfield is not. That’s all I’ll say.
For me, however, it was better than Disney. I was inspired. And I loved it. From the moment I arrived at capital square, happened to look up and see the hand-painted sign “Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices” to the stop we made to pay our last respects at the big guy’s tomb on our way out of town–I was struck by one, overwhelming thought: “He deserves all this admiration.”
Have you ever found yourself struck by the Truth of a cliche–one you’d rolled your eyes at and ignored for years? And you think to yourself: “Oh, man. The cliche really is true!” You may open your mouth and try to explain this realization to a lover or close friend and they politely nod, because every word that comes out of your mouth sounds trite.
Studying–REALLY studying–the greatness of a great person like Abraham Lincoln feels the same way. You start out rolling your eyes or nodding politely because you (think) you know it all. You’ve heard he’s great so many times, his greatness has no impact on you. He’s on the frickin’ penny for Pete’s sake.
It wasn’t until I stood in the replicated interior of the old capitol building inside the
(AWESOME) Abraham Linclon Museum, that I finally, truly understood the greatness of Mr. Lincoln.
The museum recreated what it looked like when Lincoln lay in state inside the capital, where thousands of Illinoisans paid their last respects before Lincoln was buried.
Over his coffin, there was a huge portrait. Can you guess who was the subject of the portrait? Lincoln? His family? A scene of General Lee surrendering to Grant at Appomattox?
Nope. It was George Washington.
Painted in huge letters across fabric that hung from the top of the wall were these words: “Washington the Father…Lincoln the Savior.”
We all know what Lincoln did. Some of us understand how difficult it was for him to do it; how much opposition and failure and death surrounded so much of his life and actions. He snuck into Washington D.C. to be inaugurated under the shadow of multiple death threats. His cabinet largely opposed the emancipation proclamation. Much of what he did caused fury in the north as well as the south. He was often ridiculed, reviled, defied, misunderstood and misrepresented.
But guess what? He was right. How did he know? How did he have the strength of character to NOT give up, give in or even compromise in the face of such opposition?
The nation seemed, even at the time of his death when he passed from person to myth, to grasp that his steadfastness and willingness to do the unpopular, saved our country. And they compared him to Washington, not because he took a bullet and was deified, but because history tells us that without Washington, we may not have survived our birth. Without Lincoln, we may not have survived as one country.
Did you roll your eyes when I when you read “Washington the Father; Lincoln the Savior”? Have you been rolling your eyes this whole time? This kind of admiration has fallen very out of favor…which kind of bums me out. (I half expect someone to comment on this post, and insist that Lincoln only freed the slaves to thwart a possible alliance between the south and England. Bring it on, btw.)
Was there after his death unabashed hero worship? Yes. Shameless.
Did these men become myths and all their flaws forgotten, only to be turned over by 21st century historians on a mission to make history more accurate? Sure. Yep. And good for those historians.
Were they great people? Since I’m not qualified to answer that question with authority, I won’t…though my opinion is obvious.
Did they do great things? Did they possess qualities and make decisions that made our country the country we know?
Yes. Absolutely. And that’s my point.
If you want to appreciate, truly appreciate, the world we’ve inherited, and strive to make it better, don’t roll your eyes at greatness. Learn about it and yes, emulated it, in some small or great measure. Why not? These actions, these moments of strong character, are the most useful aspects of our culture.
Have you ever heard the cliche “It’s a cliche because it’s true”? I love that historians have highlighted our forefather’s flaws and contradictions because our heroes should be human. But if we dismiss the Big Guys as hypocritical, we miss the unimpeachable truth that made the legend a legend.
“A penny saved is a penny earned.” Yeah. That one still makes me roll my eyes.
But it also makes some people rich.