Posts Tagged ‘Gettysburg Address’

In Memoriam

May 29, 2016

GettysbAddrs

I have written a story in which, in the year 1937, a young man and an old man travel from Paris to a World War I battlefield cemetery in Belgium. In the scene, Philip poses this question to Mel:

“How could this place have been a battlefield for a world war?”

       The old Frenchman cast his eyes on the passing landscape, and seemed to join Philip in this musing. He answered slowly, “War is a terrible thing, an ugly thing. I did not fight in the war; I had already served my military duty, long before the Archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo and the whole damn world flew apart, like shrapnel. But I had many friends who fought here, and back there, where we just came from in my France, back there at the Somme, the Marne, Amiens. Our soldiers drove the Germans back across their fortified lines, the Hindenberg line they called it. By summer of 1918 the Germans were in full retreat, although it took them a hell of a long time, and rivers of spilt blood, to admit it. And so it all ended here. Those trenches, over there in France, that had been held and occupied for two hellish years by both armies, those muddy hellholes were finally left behind, vacated, and afterward . . . filled up again with the soil of France and Flanders and Belgium, and green grass was planted where warfare had formerly blasted its way out of the dark human soul and the dark humus of lowland dirt and now we see that grass, trimmed, manicured and growing so tidily around those rows of white crosses out there, most of them with some soldier’s name carved on them, many just unknown, anonymous, and how could this have happened? You might as well ask how could. . . a grain of sand get stuck in an oyster? And how could that oyster, in retaliation against that rough, alien irritant, then generate a pearl—such a beautiful thing, lustrous and white—coming forth in response to a small, alien presence that had taken up unwelcomed residence inside the creature’s own domain? The answer, my friend, is floating in the sea, blowing in the wind, growing green and strong from soil that once ran red with men’s blood.”

       Now they were arriving at the battlefield. Jacques parked the car, leaned against the front fender, lit a cigarette. Mel and Philip walked through a stone arch, along a narrow, paved road lined with flowering linden trees, spring green with their large spadish leaves, sprinkled with small white blossoms. The sun was getting low behind them. Shadows of these trees had overtaken the narrow lane, turning it cooler than the surrounding fields, acres and acres neatly arranged with white crosses and gravestones, and continuous green, perfect grass between all. Having reached the end of the linden lane, they stepped slowly, reverently, along straight pathways, passing hundreds of silent graves on either side. The setting sun was still warm here, after their cool approach from beneath the trees.

       At length, they came to the row that Philip had been looking for, the one he had read about in the army guidebook, where his father’s grave was nested precisely and perpetually in its own place in eternity . . .

The excerpt above is taken from chapter 27 of Smoke, the novel I published last year. I highlight the above passage as a memorial to the brave men and women who have died in wars while defending our United States of America and assuring the causes of human freedom throughout this tragic, precious world.

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A Scene at the Lincoln Memorial

June 28, 2015

Yesterday we drove up from Charlotte to Washington. After checking into the hotel, we had dinner in the room, then launched out for a nocturnal walk to the National Mall and Lincoln Memorial. By ‘n by, being doused by a rainstorm we found ourselves taking cover  under this unfamiliar rotunda which turned out to be something called the D.C. War Memorial. I snapped this pic:

DCWarMem

which turned out to be a much clearer photograph than the one I attempted a few minutes later in the drizzling D.C. night at the Korean War Memorial:

KoreaGhostly

This very dark image of ghostly soldier statues seems to reflect a dim commemoration of a war that was taking place on the other side of the world about the time I entered this world in 1951.

My photographic success brightened considerably when, a few tromping minutes later, we arrived at the Lincoln Memorial and caught this view in the dripping night.

LincMemNite

This luminescent sight reminded me of our arrival in Greece a few months ago when, having just stepped out of an Athens Metro station we caught a similarly eerie first sighting of the distant Acropolis, which seemed to hover at the apex of an ancient high-ground hallowed spot.

But that was then, and this was now, which is to say, last night:

We ascended the glistening steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and when we got up there this is what we saw:

LincolnStatu

Then, wandering over to the glyphed wall-inscription of our war-striven President’s message at Gettysburg battlefield. I was reminded of a scene from my 2007 novel, Glass half-Full. In chapter 6 of that book, we find Marcus and Bridget, a young couple who have recently met, gazing at the inscribed words of the President’s famous speech. Here’s the scene:

They came to an inner sanctum. Carved on the white marble wall in front of them were the words of the slain President’s Gettysburg address. Marcus stopped, taking in the enormity of it, both physically and philosophically. He was looking at the speech intently. Bridget was looking at him.

After a few moments: “Isn’t that amazing?”

“Yes.” She could see that he was thinking hard about something. The great chamber echoed a murmur of humankind.

“Supreme irony.” The longing of a nation’s soul reverberated through the memorial. . .in the soundings of children, the whisperings of passersby. Deep within Marcus’ soul, something sacred was stirring, and she could see it coming forth.

“The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here.” He was reading aloud Lincoln’s words on the white wall.

But for the echoes of a million people who had passed through this place, there was silence. After a moment, Bridget responded “. . .and yet, there it is, carved on the wall for all to see. ‘The world will little note what we say here. . .’ ”

“Right, Bridget. Isn’t it amazing?”

GettysbAddrs

Glass half-Full

Hey you.

May 27, 2013

During the dark middle years of our Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln went to a battlefield in Pennsylvania where thousands of soldiers had died in defense of our nation, while fighting to preserve what we Americans stand for.

Mr. Lincoln spoke very briefly that day, November 19, 1863. He spoke gravely, as a leader who deeply understood, and grieved at, the terrible, bloody price being paid for our freedom. What he said has filled and inspired the consciousness of us who have, over these last 150 years, benefited from the sacrifice of those brave men at Gettysburg. Here is a small shrapnel of what he said:

“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.”

Nowadays, we may ask ourselves what were those men struggling for? What have all our soldiers, past and present,  lived and died fighting for? Mr. Lincoln’s final sentence that day reinforced it:

“. . . that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

This Memorial Day, we should remind ourselves of this principle too–government by the people— as we remember the men and women who have died on battlefields all around the world for us people, so that we can live free.

Are you actually making the best use of that freedom that these brave soldiers fought for? Or is your power to act favorably– on behalf of yourself and those you love– is that power, your personal initiative, your energy, buried in the ground somewhere on some lapsed battleground of your life? Is your impulse to serve others  hiding in a bag of potato chips? or a carton of beer? Is it taking refuge behind the glass of a flat screen tv?

You, you who are reading this,  ask yourself:

Am I a person? Am I one of those “people” whose responsibility is to govern? 

Or have I abdicated? Have I ceded my personal responsibilities as an American to some other person or agency? Is my freedom to act and prosper locked in a harddrive, on a desktop, somewhere in Washington, DC? Or in my state’s capital?  Have I signed off on my freedom to act?

98 years after President Lincoln addressed, at Gettysburg, the heart issues of our nation’s purpose–government by the people– President John Kennedy said:

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

This, too, we need to remember, and act upon, instead of looking for handouts or unearned entitlements, instead of waiting for superman to bail us out of whatever couch-potato cushion we are stuck in. Are you doing your part to keep our  United States of America a nation of free citizens, who are willing and capable to act on your own so that you and  all the rest of us may benefit?

What have you done this week to make our country a better place? Did you do your job? Did you look for a job? Did you read something worthwhile? Did you break a sweat, hammer a nail, or cook a meal? Did you pick up your own trash, clean your plate after the meal, help load the dishwasher? Did you speak kindly to someone? Did you speak correction to yourself or your best friend? Did you plant a seed. I mean, it is spring. We can get out now and see what the real world looks like.

What’s going on out there? And what does it mean that “the people,” govern? Do I get a fancy desk and a legislative vote-on-the-bill button to push? Probably not. But you and I, as people, do have certain responsibilities thrust upon us, lest our great ship of state plunge to the depths of lethargy.

Although we cannot, as President Lincoln said, truly consecrate that hallowed ground at Gettysburg, there is something we can and should do.

Are you doing your part in governing this great nation? Many men and women have died so that you could exercise that privelege. Use it. Find something that needs to be done and do it, whether you’re getting paid for it or not.

Glass half-Full