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Monday, February 14, 2011


"If we forget our history, we will forget who we are"

 Abraham Lincoln    

Do you ever wonder if what you do really matters?  I am referring to the big picture as I ask this question today.  I had a "Does it really matter?" moment yesterday as I watched my wife get up with a sigh from a relaxed pose on the sofa to get ready for the evening at a Lincoln Day Dinner.  Laying my head back, I must have fallen asleep because when I came to, I had a nagging and unsettled feeling in my gut.

Why do I bother disrupting the prospect of a relaxing evening at home (especially when I've been gone all week) to go to a Lincoln Day dinner -- on an off election year when I've been to a hundred of them in my lifetime?  The answer may not be self evident, but bear with me as I try to explain.

We went to the dinner and true to Lincoln Day dinner form, the decorations were simple in red white and blue, the faces familiar (although names not as readily accessible!), the menu and program predictable and pleasant.

But it was the table decorations which caught my attention and triggered the urge to write these thoughts to you.  A black cut-out of the silhouette of Abraham Lincoln adorned each table.  Glued on a tri-fold card, it was in front of me the whole night and I couldn't help but have flash-backs of elementary school art - projects - replete with scissors and the smell and feel of Elmer's glue on my hands - in my little country school in McKenzie, ND.  It seemed like we always did "Profiles of the Presidents" in February right before Valentine's Day.

Why did we do that?  What do I remember about Lincoln that has anything to do with what I want to say to you?  Among other things, I remember that Lincoln had a lot of failures (of which I can relate to) in his bids for office, but once elected President, he was resolved to preserve the unity of the country and like most men in his position, Lincoln wrestled with the legacy he would leave behind.

I've told the story numerous times about the experience I had while reading Doris Kearns-Goodwin's biography of Lincoln, "A Team of Rivals" and how it was the inspiration for me to re-enter the world of politics after a twenty year sabbatical.     What struck me about Lincoln at the time was his lament as a young man that he faced a time with no opportunities for greatness such as those presented to the founders less than 100 years before him.

Yet he continued on.  Later he was quoted as he reflected on his first term as President, "If we forget where we have been, we won't remember who we are".

As his life unfolded into the great conflict which erupted into civil war - the bloodiest war in American history - it was evident that Lincoln had maintained the integrity of his character - he had not lost touch with who he was as an American and a leader who understood the importance of great sacrifice for the cause of freedom.  

Even more, he saw the future through the eyes of humility, charity and collaboration with others to preserve the nation.

As I left the dinner, his words from the address at Gettysburg sounded the Voice of Freedom from across the annals of time, echoing through the memories of the challenges which his successors have faced and overcome.

"We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men (and women) who have fought here have hallowed it far beyond our ability to add or detract....it is for us the living to be dedicated to the unfinished task - so that these honored dead will not have died in vain - and that the government of the people, by the people, and for the people will not perish from the earth."

To remember the contribution of others is a reminder to me of why it matters.

I am an American and they did it for me.  And I have a responsibility to pass it on.

At the end of the day, what began as a sigh, ended in a satisfying sense of an evening well spent.

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