Lincoln and Washington are etched in my memory, black silhouettes cut from construction paper templates, taped to the window, to the doors of a school that is no longer a school.
I was fascinated with the presidents at an early age. By the time I was in first grade, I could recite all of the presidents in order up to that time. That list ended with LBJ. I think it was more of an exercise, the seed of the mechanics of how I learn, evidence of a certain type of memory, than a stunning feat. I can’t do that now, recite the presidents in order, at least on command. I could probably come close, but I have no desire to. The value and capacity of my memory has deteriorated over the years from lack of use, or too much use, or from other causes of aging, or from lack of interest.
My fascination with the presidents has changed, too, from hero worship, in the case of Lincoln, to a more mature, engaged, and active view of politics. But I prefer the view of our leaders through the eyes of a child; misty, nostalgic, inspired. But that is impossible on most days.
A wise man (my grandfather) once said to me, “If you want to keep a friend for life, then there are three things you shouldn’t talk about: money, religion, and politics.”
That’s a hard task in today’s fractured 24-hour news cycle environment. But I stick to that adage as much as possible. My view on politics is my own, and I am under no delusion that my opinion on anything is true for anyone but me.
Lincoln is still a hero, but he was also human with his faults. Yes, I loved the Spielberg movie, and I have read my fair share of Lincoln books (did you know that over 16,000 on the subject have been published?), but my approach is not, and has never been, academic when it came to him. I like the lore, the mystery, the sadness of the man, as much as the victories and hype. I’m waiting on the movie that captures Washington as well as Spielberg’s captured Lincoln.
It is a purely American exercise to take a day to honor the birth of these two men. It would be nice if somewhere during the day we all could find a moment to exercise an act of dignity that reflects a little bit of Washington and Lincoln’s character. Or what we perceive it to be. Even that would be something…