Lincoln at sunrise

I’ve written about Lincoln several times before in this space. Some of the posts are here and here and here. There are many things about human nature that disappoint me, or worse, but our enduring interest in this boy from the Kentucky backwoods always makes up for them, at least in my mind.

This morning I was driving my eight year-old daughter to her ice skating lesson. The roads are so much clearer on Saturday morning than they are at any other time. As I was stopped at a red light at the corner of Western and Lawrence Avenues, I looked west toward the rising sun and saw a really cool image. I didn’t capture it with my camera, but sometimes that isn’t necessary. And if I do this right, I can describe it even better with my words. Let’s see how it goes.

The Lincoln statue at the intersection of Lawrence and Western is in a Chicago neighborhood known as Lincoln Square. The statue is called “The Chicago Lincoln” and was sculpted by Avard Fairbanks. Lincoln is depicted as a fully grown man, but has not yet reached the presidency. It’s a clean-shaven Lincoln, who cuts an impressive figure not as a Sampson-type railsplitter, but as an attorney and a man to be reckoned with.

But as the sun was coming up, it created a halo effect behind Lincoln’s visage.I couldn’t take my eyes off of it, as I started to think, once again, of what he accomplished to shape the nation that we live in today. And then, just at the moment that he had accomplished what he set out to do, it was taken away from him. Would the years following the Civil War, and the difficulties of putting the nation back together, have diminished our thoughts about him? Perhaps, but the Lincoln depicted in this statue hadn’t yet become the president.

The Lincoln that I saw, as the sun was rising behind his likeness this morning, was clear in his conviction that slavery is wrong, and he was also unwilling to just accept it as a fact of life, in the way that every American generation had done before him. He lost his bid to unseat a slave-appeasing senator in Stephen A. Douglas in 1858 but–fortunately for all of us–he wasn’t through yet.

The light changed, and I was once again on my way to the ice skating rink. For a minute or so, every time I blinked I saw the image of Lincoln, backlit by the rising sun. It wore off, as I knew it would, but it left me with the inspiration, once again, to try to put Lincoln’s accomplishments into words. I’ll never be able to capture it the way that I want to, but I’ll keep coming at it, over and over again. Lincoln deserves nothing less than that.

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