You can’t go wrong invoking Lincoln. John Avlon did just that Saturday as the guest speaker at the Pierson High School graduation, and the effect — if you were paying attention I don’t see how it could be otherwise — was riveting.
Hard to believe that such a towering Shakespearean figure ever existed in this country? I agree. He was Bard-like not only in his tragedy, but in the grandeur of the arc of his story, in his otherworldly rhetorical gifts.
Avlon’s story was from his 2022 book, “Lincoln and the Fight for Peace,” involving the 16th president’s trip to a Civil War battlefield to visit the Union wounded — all of them, over the course of many hours. Noticing a lone tent across the way, he inquires, only to be told he needn’t concern himself with it, those are wounded Confederate soldiers.
Great unifier that he is, he makes a point of seeing every one of them, offering consoling words, shaking hands if his hand is accepted. One Confederate fighter later said that was when he knew they’d lost.
Like most of us, my head has been elsewhere. I mean, the other day I was thinking how we need another Warren Zevon. But, another Lincoln? We won’t be getting one, of course; it’s the animating principle that one hopes is inspiring in divided times.
Years ago on one of my solo cross-country drives, I stopped at Gettysburg, Pa. — a midcentury motel room, an ice cream cone on a stroll through a handsomely bricked downtown, the battlefield at sunset.
If there’s sanctified ground in this country, that’s it. If there’s any shred of collective soul left, it resides there. I’ve always felt that every American should have the experience of reading the Gettysburg Address in that full, incredibly moving context.
The social fabric, the union — they’re not in great shape. There’s even been careless talk of a new civil war. And then there’s Lincoln, gently reminding us, in part, “that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”