From one brilliant president to another

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The only guest post I’ve ever had, in the more than 1,100 posts I’ve put here through the years, was a tweet that Barack Obama sent out on the night he was re-elected. He went out and spoke to his supporters after sending it, but those who follow him on Twitter got to hear the news of his re-election first. As a social media dabbler, I loved that gesture.

Today’s post isn’t a guest post, per se, but it is a statement on Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address that is eloquent and very appropriate. I’ll just shut up and let anyone who hasn’t seen it take it all in.

Thanks to President Obama for capturing what Lincoln’s speech means, and how it still applies–and will always apply–to the American nation. Bravo, Mr. President!

A reason to admire Lincoln

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I write about Lincoln all the time here, and there’s a reason for that. He righted this nation’s greatest wrong, and he lifted the scourge that undercut everything America claimed to stand for. He made the nation that calls itself “the land of the free” into a closer approximation of that. And if we don’t realize that, we should.

The Gettysburg Address may be the most startling evidence of Lincoln’s brilliance, but there are so many others, as well. Read one of his speeches and you’ll understand.

A Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address

Today I had some time on my hands, and a clear mission in mind. I wanted to film myself reciting the Gettysburg Address and upload it to Learntheaddress.org, a once-in-a-lifetime project to record and upload Lincoln’s speech for posterity. There’s still some time to do this, as I type this out three days before the 150th anniversary of the Address on November 19.

I had wanted to film myself with Lincoln over my shoulder as I was speaking, to create an effect that he was hovering over me and somehow looking on approvingly as I was speaking his words. So I drove to a Lincoln statue located in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago. I’ve written about the statue before, and it seemed to be the best spot to accomplish what I wanted to do.

It was a blustery gray day in Chicago, perfect for the kind of outdoor backdrop I was looking for. From what I’ve read, the day that Lincoln delivered the address was sunny, but on a day for honoring war dead, a gray day seems more fitting. I found a parking spot, walked up to the statue, and went to work.

The statue is located at a bus stop near a busy intersection, and there were lots of people milling about, and cars were passing by. I felt a bit sheepish recording myself in front of the statue, but this was important to me and I wanted to see it through.

After a few flubbed lines and false starts, I finally got the best version I was going to get. But it had a flaw that there wasn’t any way to work around, in that a Walgreen’s store is located nearby, and the incessant bell-ringing of the Salvation Army volunteer turned up very clearly on the video. As I watched it, I realized that the bell-ringing was a dealbreaker. It was time to move on to plan B.

There’s another Lincoln statue–this one a much younger representation–a bit further north, near Senn High School. I’ve written about this statue, as well. I was on my way to that statue when a burst of inspiration hit me. I pulled off into Rosehill cemetery instead.

Not surprisingly, I’ve written about Rosehill before, too. The thought that I had was that Lincoln was speaking to honor dead soldiers at a cemetery dedication, and if I could recite Lincoln’s words against a similar backdrop, it would make it all the more authentic.

After finding a spot, and saying a silent thank you to the Civil war dead buried there, I pulled out my cellphone camera and went to work. I fumbled a little bit toward the end, but I think I captured the spirit of it. I then uploaded it to YouTube and shared the link with the learntheaddress people, and it’s being moderated before it goes live on their website. I’ll post that link when it happens, but for now the YouTube version appears above.

It was an honor and a privilege to share Lincoln’s words, and to have them recorded for posterity in a way that Lincoln’s actual speech is not. I’ll be forever glad I did this, and I’m happy to share it with the world here. It’s not the best version, I’m sure, but it’s meaningful to me, and a clear reminder of what the purpose of the speech actually was.

All things Gettysburg

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I started writing this blog two and a half years ago, and I’ve mentioned the Gettysburg Address thirteen times before today. Here’s a link to all of the previous references.

I love Abraham Lincoln, and I love the Gettysburg Address. I’m not apologetic about it, either. Slavery is the worst thing that ever happened in this country that I call home, and it took all of Lincoln’s genius to bring it to an end.

We should all revere Lincoln for what he did, and to the extent that present-oriented American culture ever looks towards its past, I think we do. I honor us all for not consigning Lincoln to the scrap heap of history, where you can find every president who followed him up until Teddy Roosevelt.

Today I plan to visit at least one of the various Lincoln statues in Chicago (there are six that I know of) and record myself reciting the Gettysburg Address for learntheaddress.org. When that happens, I’ll be sure to share it here, as well.

 

An alternate version of Lincoln’s words

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Everybody knows the Gettysburg Address, or at least the version of it that appears in every history book you’ll ever see, and on the wall inside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C, and in other public places as well. But I recently came upon a slightly different version of it, and I wanted to share it here.

First, some back story. Last summer I read Lincoln’s Sword, a fascinating book by historian Douglas L. Wilson. In the book, Wilson examines Lincoln’s writings and speeches as a way of explaining Lincoln’s mastery of the language, and the way he used it to shape public opinion about the war. In fact, Wilson claims that our modern understanding of the Civil War comes from what Lincoln said or wrote about it.

But there were limitations to this in the 19th century. The technology to record his words didn’t exist yet, and so any written version of a speech which Lincoln gave depends on the memory of the person who wrote the speech down. Sometimes that person gets it right, and sometimes they don’t. And there’s really no way of knowing which is which.

The first–and perhaps most jarring–example Wilson gave in his book was Lincoln’s Farewell Address in Springfield Illinois upon leaving for Washington in early 1861. Lincoln spoke off the cuff to the people who had come to see him off that morning, and it wasn’t until after the train had left that someone asked Lincoln to write down what he had said. There are several instances of where Lincoln’s words, as written, differed from what reporters and witnesses at the scene claim that he said. Lincoln wrote down what he either believed he said, or wishes he might have said, but even his written words are not necessarily the words that came out of his mouth on that occasion.

With this potential–or even a likelihood–for discrepancies between the spoken and written versions of a speech, I came across a version of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address that was printed in the Chicago Tribune on November 21, 1863. The version is what a Tribune reporter–who presumably was present in Gettysburg on the occasion of Lincoln’s speech–told the world that Lincoln said. None of the differences changes the meaning of the words, necessarily, but it does leave open the possibility that what Lincoln’s handwritten version of the speech said differed from the words that he spoke on the stage.

Here’s what the Tribune reported that Lincoln said:

“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers established upon this continent a Government subscribed in Liberty and dedicated to the fundamental principle that all mankind are created equal by a good God, and [applause] and now we are engaged in a great contest. We are contesting the question whether this nation, or any nation so conceived, so dedicated can longer remain. We are met on a great battle field of the war. We are met here to dedicate a portion of that field as the final resting place of those who have given their lives to that nation that it might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a large sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men lying dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or to detract [Great applause] The world will little heed, nor long remember, what we say here; but it will not forget what they did here [Immense Applause].

It is for us rather, the living, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that they have thus far so nobly carried forward. It is rather for us here to be dedicated the great task remaining before us; for us to renew our dedication to that cause for which they gave the full measure of their devotion. Here let us resolve that what they have done shall not have been done in vain.That the nation shall, under God, have a new birth. That the Government this people founded, by the people, shall not perish.”

This version leaves out a few of the more memorable turns of a phrase that I am used to seeing in the Gettysburg Address: For example, the phrase “The last full measure of devotion” is missing, as is “conceived in liberty” from the first sentence, and “a new birth of freedom” from the penultimate sentence appears to have been clipped in the Tribune’s version of the speech. And the last sentence, with its rhythmic “of the people, by the people, for the people” construction, was not reported by the Tribune in that way at all.

Does this mean that the idealized version of the speech, which the Union soldiers recited back to Lincoln at the beginning of the recent Spielberg movie, is inaccurate? Not necessarily. It’s entirely possible that the Tribune‘s version of the speech was not completely accurate. Again, the person who wrote this down had no way of recording Lincoln’s words for additional reference. This version is what they though they heard, and it’s possible that other newspapers printed other versions of the speech as well. But it does raise the question of whether Lincoln’s words from the stage at Gettysburg are the same ones that we are familiar with today.

Again, in the absence of a recorded version of the speech, we’re hoping that what has been written down by Lincoln is accurate. For as honest as Lincoln certainly was, we all have problems remembering exactly what we said, sometimes. The broad strokes of Lincoln’s message have undoubtedly survived intact, but there’s also a possibility–perhaps even a probability–that some of his rhetorical flourishes may have been added after the speech. Either way, it’s always going to be the most important speech in American history. And I’ve just written almost a thousand words to prove that point.

Government of the people, by the people, and for the people

There’s a reason why, in a society where “that’s so last year” is a put-down, Lincoln still rings true. The man’s been dead for nearly a century and a half now, but he spoke the words, and wrote the words, that we all need to understand if we’re going to consider ourselves to be Americans.

This morning, driving north on Western Avenue in Chicago, I pulled my car over and stood at the base of a Lincoln statue. I recalled the Gettysburg Address, and the final sentence which says that “we highly resolve that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.” And that hasn’t happened, then or now.

On my tiny little blog–tucked away in internet obscurity–I ask anyone who is talking about secession to consider Lincoln’s words very carefully. We just had an election, and Barack Obama won, fair and square. He got a majority of the electoral votes, and our Constitution says that’s all he needed to do. Our Constitution, as amended, also says that after he serves a second term in office, he can never be the President again. That’s the whole “by the people” part. Are you seriously suggesting that doesn’t apply anymore, simply because your guy lost the election?

In 2004, I felt the same way you did when George W. Bush was re-elected. The thought of another four years with him as the President seemed unbearable. But that’s what the will of the people was, and the four years went by. These next four years will go by, too. But the results of the last election must be upheld. To suggest otherwise is simply unAmerican.

Stop the secession talk right now, and work on making the country, or your own life, better than it is. “The people” that Lincoln was referring to at Gettysburg have already spoken.

Seven score and nine years ago

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I had a few moments in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago this evening–on the 149th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address–and so I made a modern-day pilgrimage to the Standing Lincoln statue nearby.

Lincoln’s speech is nothing less than amazing, in terms of its forceful and determined statement of what the battle meant, and the larger context of why the war was being waged. I stood at the base of the statue, looked up, and marveled at what Lincoln was able to accomplish with his words. More learned men than him have come and gone, but it’s Lincoln that we still revere. And that’s something worth celebrating on November 19 and every other day as well.

The ball in the foreground of the picture above has the text of the Gettysburg Address raised on its surface, and I read the words, as I have many times before. But reading them, in the presence of a statue dedicated in his honor, somehow felt right to me. I shut my eyes, gave thanks for the way that things turned out, and went back to my car.

With my pilgrimage accomplished, I’m already beginning to wonder what will be planned for the sesquicentennial of the address next year. I’m hoping that it will be something worthy of Lincoln and his legacy. Our ongoing fascination with Lincoln gives me reason to believe that it will.

Remembering Aaron Copland

Thirty-five years ago, roughly, I got myself into trouble. It was during music class, the once-a-week excursion outside of the classroom in the Catholic school that I attended in the 1970s, and into the music teacher’s classroom on the first floor. I’ll call the teacher Ms. F, but her full name isn’t really important to this story.

One day, as Ms. F was playing her piano and expecting us to sing along (I think I was in fourth or fifth grade at the time), some of my buddies and I were cutting up in class. We feared the nun who was our regular teacher–as we were supposed to do–but the music teacher didn’t scare us so very much. She probably ignored more of our misbehavior than she should have, but at some point she must have decided that we needed a punishment of some sort. So she told a couple of my buddies and I that we each had to write a report about Aaron Copland, who was probably the composer of the piece that she was playing for us that day.

A week went by, and I hadn’t done a thing for the report, and none of my buddies had, either. On the day that these reports were due, we all began writing reports that gave Copland credit for all sorts of amazing things. I specifically recall claiming that he had invented electricity, and the others were probably even more generous than I was. By the time we had finished out reports, Aaron Copland was just about the most accomplished man of the modern age.

I don’t remember what happened as the result of our creative academic works about Mr. Copland. We didn’t have Google back then, but it was pretty obvious that Aaron Copland hadn’t done any of the things that we gave him credit for. But today, all these years later, I read that Aaron Copland was born on this day (November 14) in 1900. So I decided to actually learn something about the man I was once sentenced to write a report on. And it turns out that I learned quite a bit.

But the single most amazing thing, which but for that long-ago punishment I would have missed out on, has a connection to Abraham Lincoln. The release of Lincoln in movie theaters has set me off on a bit of a Lincoln writing bender, so here’s still another piece about the Great Emancipator. But this one’s really good, I think.

In early 1942, when the nation was still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor, a concert was organized by conductor Andre Kostelanetz. Copland and two other composers were commissioned to write orchestral pieces about American themes. In the early 1940s, there was no television, no pay-per-view, and really no record industry as we know it today. There were no televised benefits where viewers could call in to an 800 number and make a donation with their credit cards. It was just a concert in a place, and in this case the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra was playing the music in May of 1942. The piece that Copland wrote for Kostelanetz was called Lincoln Portrait.

What made this piece so special was that it made use of Lincoln’s own words, from the Gettysburg Address and his 1862 Message to Congress, in which he stated “We cannot escape history.” It also told details from Lincoln’s personal life, in the hopes of rallying its audience, and the nation itself, to war. Almost eighty years after his death, Lincoln’s life and words served as an artistic inspiration. And, as Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis are now showing us, they can still inspire us today.

Thanks to some Googling this afternoon, I was able to get the idea that Ms. F is still around, and probably living not very far from where I grew up. She probably won’t ever read this, as I’m sure that teaching music to me and my classmates is buried deep in the recesses of her memory. But thanks to her, and Google, and a composer’s name that I never forgot, I was able to learn something new and interesting today. Every day should hold such a pleasant surprise, shouldn’t it?.

It’s astounding

Lately, on the occasion of taking a run around my neighborhood, I take an iPhone along and listen to the music, to help pass those seconds and minutes when I actually am running. And the title to this post comes from the first line of The Time Warp, which is on my running playlist. I love the way the line is delivered in such a deadpan fashion, completely undermining whatever astonishment Riff Raff may have been feeling at the time. These are the sort of things that stick with me, for better or for worse.

What’s astounding to me, and what I wanted to write down in the few moments that I have available, is the subject of word counts. The average word count for what I put in this space has remained right around 500 words per post. Sometimes I go past a thousand words, and some times I don’t even reach 100. But 500 seems to be the sweet spot, as far as I can see, when it comes to making a point or holding someone’s attention.

And I compare that 500 word figure, which I could use up describing the squirrels in my backyard if I had a notion to, with Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. 292 words that summed up the Civil War so perfectly that we still remember the words more than a century later. I’m going to cap this post at 292 words, recognizing that I never have, and never will, address a topic as weighty as he did back in November of 1863. I can go on for 500 words and more and say nothing, while he hit the nail on the head in under 300 words. It’s, well, as I said at the beginning of this post, it’s astounding. No other word fits better.

A Lincoln triple play

Last year, my family and I traveled to Washington, DC for Spring Break. If you’re an American, and you’ve never been there before, get there as quickly as you can. There are items from the American experience that won’t be found anywhere but in Washington. Spend the money, and connect with your cultural home. And be sure to thank me after you do.

Of the many great experiences I had in DC, there’s one that really stands out in my mind. On Good Friday, we went to see a play in Ford’s Theater. There was a museum aspect of it, for sure, but instead of doing that, we got tickets to see a two-man play about what happened that night at Ford’s, and in the years after it, as well.

The date of the assassination was less important to me than the fact that it happened on Good Friday, the same day that we were at the theater. I looked up at the president’s box, which is draped with flags just like you would expect. All those years before, Lincoln was in that room, waving to those who had come to see him more than the play that was being staged. And a newspaper announcement that he was to be there with General Grant that evening led Booth to put his long-thought of  plan of assassination into action.

The next day, on our way out of DC, we all stopped and paid a visit to the Lincoln Memorial. You might feel as though you’ve seen it before, and in a way you have, if you’ve ever looked at the back of a penny. But the enormous scale of it is hard to realize unless you’ve been there in person. I read the words to the Gettysburg Address and the second inaugural speech, and looked upon the Lincolnian figure sitting in a chair, as if on a throne. But Lincoln was certainly no king, and I impressed that fact upon my children. The experience would not have been the same without them there with me.

The next day, Easter Sunday, we drove from Washington to Cleveland, Ohio, where I was able to complete the three-day Lincoln voyage by seeing The Conspirator in a movie theater. With thoughts of the assassination still fresh in my mind, it was fascinating to see how vengeance was extracted in the days that followed. It was as though I had prepped myself for the movie, entirely by accident.

There was no planning for such a unique convergence of events to occur. But Lincoln is all around us, provided that we want to find him. And one year ago, that’s exactly what we did.

Memorializing the Gettysburg Address

My daughter’s elementary school has an interesting plaque on the wall.  The school was built in 1902, and it’s still in use today. For a building that’s well over 100 years old, it’s holding up remarkably well.  Schools don’t seem to be built like that anymore.

What makes this plaque so interesting is that, even though it’s no more that 12 inches across and 6 or 7 inches high, it contains the entire text of what could be the greatest speech ever, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Books have been written about this speech, and they are much more insightful about it than I could ever be.

The fact that Lincoln’s speech can be entirely transcribed onto a plaque about the size of an iPad is very impressive. But the fact that this plaque has sat in the same spot on a wall, just above a staircase, for more a century is  remarkable in its own right.

According to the verbiage at the bottom of the plaque, it was presented by the citizens of Chicago upon the centennial of Lincoln’s birth in 1909. More than one hundred years later,  I wonder how many parents, students, teachers, and visitors of any sort have passed beneath that plaque. At least a few have probably stopped to read it, or reflect on its meaning, or at least wonder why it was put there in the first place.

Anyone who had anything to do with that plaque’s creation is almost certainly dead. Likewise, it’s fair to say that none of the students who attended that school in 1909 are around anymore. And yet, on the walls of a public elementary school in Chicago–and probably in a thousand other places, as well–the words that Lincoln gave to the nation still live on.

There aren’t any recorded copies of Lincoln’s address, nor are there even any recorded samples of his own voice. And that’s probably a good thing, since Lincoln is said to have had a high-pitched voice that wouldn’t come off so well on television. If we give any thought to the sound of his voice, we falsely imagine it to be as rich and majestic as the Lincoln Monument itself. But we’ll never know for sure just how he sounded, in November of 1863 or on any other day. For Lincoln’s sake and ours, that’s for the best.

We have all seen Lincoln’s face in the photographs that were taken during his lifetime, but there’s just one still photo of Lincoln known to exist at Gettysburg. In today’s media world, Lincoln’s every word and movement could be broadcast live on a cable news channel, or streamed on a web page, or perhaps even uploaded onto YouTube. But this wasn’t the case back in 1863.

Lincoln’s remarks weren’t even what the audience in Gettysburg had come to hear. Instead, they came to listen to Edward Everett, who was known for the eloquence of his oratory. For more than two hours, Everett addressed the assembled throng. After he had finished, Lincoln stood up, without an introduction, and cut right to the heart of the matter at hand in Gettysburg. And then he sat down, before anyone expected he would.

The crowd had scarcely finished processing what Everett had said, when Lincoln uncorked a speech for the ages. Everett later claimed that Lincoln’s speech said more in two minutes than his own speech did in two hours. Consider how refreshing that must have been to the crowd that had heard it. Or how frustrating it must have been for those who missed it. And at just ten sentences and 282 words, it would have been an easy speech to miss. It’s a good thing that it’s now preserved on a wall–among other places–for everyone to read and consider.

My favorite Lincoln statue

I’ve always been amazed by Abraham Lincoln. He literally came from nowhere, and saved the country at its darkest hour. He righted the worst wrong, while giving us bits of wisdom and insight that will ring true forever.

I have a Lincoln desk calendar in the office where I work, but since I can go weeks at a time without going into the office, I look forward to my return in an odd way. I spend the first few minutes tearing off the days, one by one, until I’m caught up to the most current date. It’s like a concentrated dose of lincoln, which never fails to give me new ideas to consider.

The calendar entry for Monday, November 7 is a case in point. I held onto it for future reference, and it repeats Lincoln’s advice to one one Isham Reavis in an 1855 letter. This would have been before Lincoln reentered politics in 1856, by joining the nascent Republican party. He was still a private citizen when he advised his friend to “always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.” He was right, of course. Lincoln realized that, in order to succeed, you must first be determined that you will succeed. A century and a half after Lincoln penned these words, they’re still just as true today.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. The text is astonishingly brief–just 272 words in all. According to my word counter, I’m nearly at 272 words for this post already. And I’m going to keep going on, long past Lincoln’s brevity in summing up the entire Civil War. As Garry Wills said in Lincoln at Gettysburg, “The power of words has rarely been given a more compelling demonstration.”

Lincoln casts a long shadow in here Chicago. The bed that he died on in Washington DC is in the Chicago History Museum. An original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation was here, until the city burned to the ground in 1871. And he may or may not have lived out his post-presidential life here, if Booth had not intervened. But Chicago is the home of several Lincoln statues, including Standing Lincoln, which was created by renown sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.  A century and more has gone by since it was unveiled in 1887, it’s still the standard for other Lincoln sculptures to measure up to.

The sculpture shows Lincoln clutching his lapel, in order to gather up his thoughts. Perhaps it was meant to show him delivering an address to Congress, or perhaps it was just saying a few words to a friend or advisor. Whatever it was, the logic and the eloquence and the humanity that seem to characterize the things that he said were sure to follow.

There are other reminders of Lincoln nearby, and I’ve already discussed one of them here. Others will follow, no doubt, since I take my inspiration wherever I can find it, and Lincoln is one source that I can’t imagine will ever run out.

A flash of inspiration

A few years ago, I was working as an editor for a large educational publisher. For Halloween, there was a costume contest held in one of the conference rooms in the afternoon. The safe route in a situation like this is to not dress up at all, and let others run the risk of embarrassing themselves. It’s something like singing karaoke in a bar: funny to watch other people try to do it, but a different story altogether when you’re the one behind the microphone.

I liked these people I worked with, though, and I wanted be a part of the contest, without overdoing it or calling too much attention to myself. So I played it safe and dug out an old black felt hat, similar to the red and white striped “Cat in the Hat” style that was popular about a decade ago.  Mine was solid black, though, and it was clearly meant to pay homage to Abraham Lincoln.

The Literature books that we were in the process of putting together had materials from a variety of authors, including Lincoln. His Gettysburg Address, besides being a brilliant explanation of what was at stake in the Civil War, is brief enough that students will read it without telling you how boring it is. This makes it ideal for inclusion in any textbook to be placed in a high schooler’s hands.

I took my hat to work that day, and put on a solid black sweater that I wore all day long. I figured that I would put on the hat, stroll down to the meeting room and, if not win the contest, at least feel like I was a part of the festivities.

As the day wore on, however, I got a sense that things wouldn’t be that simple. A casual sampling of what others had done revealed that clever plays on words were the order of the day. A colleague dressed entirely on orange, with a green hat atop her head, was going as a “caret,” while another was going as “falling action” (which entailed making a motion as she would tumble to the ground). And worse yet, it appeared that no other literary figures would be in attendance. I knew that my Lincoln “costume” wasn’t going to go over very well.

What to do, what to do?  I went back to my desk and put my thinking cap on. And not my black felt hat, either. But I did stare at it for awhile, wondering if I should just stuff it into a desk drawer and go to the contest wearing my black sweater, acting like that was just what I wore to work that day. Problem solved, right?

But then it hit me. I could still make it fly, but first I’d have to do some prep work. Fortunately, there was still a little time.

At lunchtime, I went to a drugstore in the building next door. It was late October and the Holidays were right around the corner, so I found a strand of blinking Christmas tree lights that would do just fine. Then I went back to the building I worked in to pick up some Chinese takeout, a pair of chopsticks, and a few straws. I went back to my desk and got to work.

I’ve never been able to use chopsticks effectively, but I wasn’t going to use them to eat. Instead, I wanted them to poke some holes into my black felt hat. You’ve gotta break some eggs if you want to have an omelette, right?

I assembled the straws into the shape I wanted, but I needed some way to fasten what I had done onto the hat. I made a visit to the supply room and procured a handful of brass fasteners, which could be twisted so that they would hold everything together. Then, when I thought I had everything the way I wanted it, I made a nervous trip to the part of the floor where the restrooms were. This entailed leaving the office and waking past the elevators, where I was certain that somebody would see me. What this would mean, I wasn’t sure. But I didn’t want anyone to know what I was up to.

I went into the restroom, which was thankfully empty, and tried on my creation. It looked OK, but a couple of mirror-aided adjustments were in order. If anyone had come in at that time, they probably would not have any idea of what I was up to. But it was a nervous few minutes, anyway.

I finished up, exited the restroom, and went back to my desk. My afternoon coffee that day contained the added flavor of success.

When the time for the contest arrived, I grabbed my handiwork and headed on my way. I didn’t think I would win, but I felt confident that I had done enough to make an impact on my colleagues. That was all I really wanted, anyway.

The meeting room had some munchies and drinks set out, for people to mingle a bit before the contest started. I grabbed a cookie and some juice, and talked with some of my colleagues for a bit. We were all happy to have a momentary respite from the crazy, irrational deadlines that we often lived under. And the deadlines would still be waiting there for us when the afternoon’s festivities were over.

The contest started, and everyone taking part had to get up in front of the others to see if anyone could guess what their costume was. When it was my turn, I walked to the nearest outlet, plugged in, and said a line that I’d wanted to say ever since I first heard Linus say it in the Charle Brown Christmas special:

“Lights, please?”

One of my colleagues standing near the light switch indulged my request. It was daytime, but the lights had been on, just like they always are in an office. The room got moticeably darker, and I waited for a second or two for the lights to take effect. Needless to say, I had everyone’s attention at that point.

I pointed at my hat and asked my colleagues what they saw. Three straws had been stuck together with some tape, and then surrounded by the flashing lights I had bought earlier in the day. Immediately, several of my colleagues recognized it as the letter A.

“Very good,” I said. “Now, what is this letter A doing?”

“Flashing,” one of my colleagues ventured.

“Keep guessing,” I said.

“Blinking,” another called out.

“Right! So put them together,” I invited.

“Blinking A” someone said. It was a moment that I recognized from my days as a teacher. They were close, but still needed just a nudge to get to where I wanted them to go. An editorial term seemed to be the way to do this.

“Transpose the two and then tell me what you get,” I told them.

“A blinking.” I looked at who said it, and then pointed at my hat.

“Ayy blinkin!” I could almost feel the light bulbs turning on in the minds of those in the room. If there had been more moments like that when I was teaching high school social studies, I never would have left the classroom to do anything else.

From my colleagues’ reaction, I could tell that my gambit had worked. The idea, and the work required to bring it into being, had happened in just over an hour’s time. Everything should come together so fast.

I didn’t win the prize for best costume (and I honestly can’t remember which one did), but I did accomplish the things that I wanted to do: keeping the Lincoln motif, while giving my creativity a workout. I think Lincoln himself would have been impressed with the results.