Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"...Dedicated to the great task remaining before us…"

We missed an important date yesterday, but the locals didn’t:
Hundreds convene on anniversary of the Gettysburg address.

The words that struck a chord in America’s heart resounded Monday morning at Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, on the 144th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s immortal Gettysburg Address.
Hundreds, braving bone-chilling temperatures, convened Monday morning to celebrate Lincoln’s speech, near the same spot where he trumpeted his famous words 144 years ago. More than 3,500 Civil War soldiers are buried at the cemetery, dedicated by Lincoln on Nov. 19, 1863 as “a final resting place for those who here gave their lives so this nation might live.”
“The fact that we’re here remembering this,” said co-keynote speaker Jeff Shaara, “is a greater treasure than anything Abraham Lincoln could have expected that day.”...

A fitting ceremony to occur on the week of American Thanksgiving. Giving thanks in graceful manner for blessings that have come our way is good for the soul, as the golden virtue of optimism springs from gratitude, from humble recognition of the good that has already come our way.
Appreciation of the gifts of our past beckons the imagined possibility of further blessings laying in wait over the horizon, within our unknown future. As we age as individuals we grow to see in our parents past actions all the devotion and sacrifice that as children we took for granted; so too as an aging nation we may come, hopefully, to appreciate the painful privations undertaken by those who came before us, paving the way towards our better fortunes today.
Belief in a "happy ending" seems unnatural, if we are to judge by the seeming scarcity of this belief among adults today... and, presumably, in all times. It is through the humility involved in taking a second look, and adopting an awareness of one’s past that we may learn how much has always been done on our behalf. Our families, our families' families, each acting in faith that their sacrifices shall give us today a chance to live a life of increasing, not diminishing, happiness. Through such efforts optimism may become "second nature", learned behavior; possibly, the greatest of all the gifts bestowed upon us.
What are we to do with this gift? Best to become grateful by acting gratefully, through living a precious life worthy of that previous sacrifice, and in turn teaching a new generation the ennobling tradition of giving thanks.

President Lincoln’s eloquent speech is a powerful lesson in humility, gratitude, and faith. It is useful to re-read it on occasions like this, in order to re-learn and renew its message:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate… we cannot consecrate… we cannot hallow… this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here 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; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

[The miracle of the internet: A tantalizing look at the actual, original draft(s) of the speech, can be found here]

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