Tangent: Gettysburg Address
“‘But in a larger sense,'” I read, “‘we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground.'”
In our history studies we’d gotten back around to the Gettysburg Address.
“‘The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.'”
My children had gotten used to me blubbering through the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution, but the lull in between tricked them into thinking I’d learned to control my emotions better.
“‘The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.'” I made it through that sentence, barely, but I had to stop to compose myself before I could continue.
“‘It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here—‘”
“Mom, stop.” My son was using the Mom Voice on me, sternly telling me to stop so that I wouldn’t cry.
“No,” I said. “I’m okay. I’m not sad. I’m just full of emotion.”
He went across the room and got me a tissue. Then he let me continue.
“‘…to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.””
I interrupted myself this time.
“What do you think he means here?” I asked, wiping at my eyes.
“That they need to continue the war because the work hasn’t been finished yet,” my son said.
“True. That’s probably one thing he meant. But I think there might be more to it than just continuing to fight the war. What was the war trying to do?”
He thought for a bit. “Stop slavery?”
“Yes, it was to stop slavery, and to keep the country together without slavery. He says, ‘The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here.’ Did the world forget what he said at Gettysburg that day?”
“No, because if it did, you wouldn’t be learning about it now,” I smiled at him, and he smiled back.
“Maybe Abraham Lincoln wasn’t talking just to the people in front of him. Whether he knew he was or not, maybe he was talking to all of us, even those of us who wouldn’t be born for another century. Maybe he was reminding us that the work to uphold the ideals that the United States was founded upon continues on and on. We don’t have slavery today, not the way it was in 1860, but you can’t just end slavery and say, ‘Well. Glad that’s over,’ and expect things to be all better. There’s still inequality, there are still people suffering because of the ripples from slavery.”
“You mean the Civil Rights Movement,” he said with confidence.
“Yes, the Civil Rights Movement, and even more work that we’re still doing even today. It’s still not done. Even the people who wrote the Constitution didn’t live up to the words they wrote, but they gave us a framework that they hoped would create a better kind of government, one that would allow us to build a country where we could always get closer to that ideal. We never quite get it right, at least not completely. The best we can do is work towards what we hope we can be.”
“Okay,” he said. He’s eight years old and had had about all the lecturing he could sit through.
“Okay,” I said. “Just one more thing. Lincoln says what we need to work for to honor those who died at Gettysburg. Listen: ‘We here highly resolve…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.'”
And then he ran off to play. As an eight-year-old should.
Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.