Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Day After

Today, the Wednesday after such an historic, awe-inspiring Inauguration Day, I am reminded of the quiet day that we spent the day after Barack Obama's historic election. On Wednesday, November 5, my husband and I brought our friends Anna and Melvin to an appointment over near Lincoln's Birthplace at Sinking Spring Farm in Hodgenville, Kentucky. As they had never been there before we decided to stop by for another look ourselves, having been two years ago with our boys. The former farm site is off a state route that you can tell was once the road more traveled by with its series of run-down motor courts and related attractions.

So I was expecting more activity there, perhaps, the day after Obama's election, especially when Abraham Lincoln had been on my mind so much before and since that historic day (and this being the bicentennial year of celebration of Lincoln's birth). We were the only visitors at that time and in a way that was a chance to spend some quiet time in reflection of our own. It was the middle of the week, yes, in a very rural location so I was comforted as we left when two busloads of school children drove in. History was once a thriving tourist business for roadside America and hopefully it will be again. [The parents of my generation brought us to monuments, house museums and living history museums to celebrate our national and local history, these relics of our past. Now, I fear, we are--and are raising--a generation of historical and cultural illiterates.]

What would our earnest 16th president have thought about our 44th president, I wondered? I believe he would think it was "about time." Like Lincoln, Obama is a man of his times. A pundit said it best last night in the inaugural afterglow when he reminded us that so much has been said about race in this election that we forget the idea of generation. Obama is a man of his generation, and mine, who is already inspiring a new era in our society. Where Lincoln was the great Emancipator I feel confident that our new president will be a great Uniter. We are already seeing this across the world. There is promise for our country again and a chance to repair the irreparable in terms of great damages to our collective spirit, to our foreign relations and even our personal pride in ourselves as a nation. I felt as patriotic yesterday watching the festivities in Washington as I did on that quiet day in the rural hills of Kentucky the day after Obama was elected.

A bit further down the road from his birthplace is Knob Creek Farm where Lincoln was raised from two to seven before moving to Indiana in 1816. He would later write about that farm when he was 51: "My earliest recollection is the Knob Creek place." It was only recently donated to the National Park Service in 2002.

Seeing the humble rural locations of the beginnings of Abraham Lincoln's life, the tiny cabin replica on the hill top site where was he was born and spent his first few years and Knob Creek farm further down the road, was like an affirmation and a benediction. Of course, the cabins are only "symbolic" of the originals and the encasement of his birthplace in a classical temple is, like so many of our national monuments, a bit over the top. But that's OK: we need reverence in our society and we need places to pay our respects and our homages. To be certain, our national leaders are complicated, mortal people, with many flaws and many attributes, just like the rest of us. Yet, there are times in our history where the times make the man, or woman, and when that person becomes symbolic of so much. This era in which we live, like the trials of our Civil War and the Great Depression and World War II, is one of those times.

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

From Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865

1 comment:

Mrs. Arrow said...

Weather permitting we are going to Lincoln's birthplace in February for the big day. Definately worth having the girls play hookie from school. Thanks for the link to celebration info.
I hope the winter weather is being kind in your part of KY. We lost a friendly tree this morning.