“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
About an hour from Louisville is Hodgenville, KY. Population 3000ish. It may well be known for many things, but it is for sure known for being the birthplace of the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.
My daughter’s school is named for Lincoln, and every year they make a big deal of this president’s birthday, usually hosting a local (and very convincing!) Lincoln impersonator and in general making a big deal of their namesake.
This year, they went all out–and decided to attempt to break the current Guinness Book of World Records record for the number of people dressed as Lincoln in one place.
Yes. You read that correctly. Charming and oh-so geeky, yes? I love it.
The previous official record was 250ish. The unofficial count yesterday–because such things do have to be verified–was 550ish. I’ll let you imagine 500 kids and their teachers outfitted in all black with paper beards and top hats, situated in the school gym while stewards counted and general fun was had.
I got the full play-by-play after the fact, and as CG rattled off the events of the day, I asked, “So, what did you learn about President Lincoln?” And without batting an eye she told me what she knew about the man, some of which I’d had no clue about. When she was done, I asked, “Know what my favorite thing about Lincoln is?”
And I told her about Lincoln’s deep desire and fervent conviction that in a country torn apart by battling ideologies and war, our better angels would prevail.
And then I asked, “Do you know what prevail means?”
And she said, “Yep. It means he wanted the good parts of us to win.”
I’ll let you imagine my jaw drop and the prick of tears against my eyelids. Because…holy hell, she had it right. Exactly right.
He wanted the good parts of us to win.
Y’all, how I am dying for the good parts of us to win. “I can’t, I literally just can’t,” I said to one dear to me last night, both of us smiling over Valentine’s Day revelry while also staring stunned at the smart phone screens telling us more children had died at the hands of gun violence.
I want the good parts of us to win. The parts that recognize that in each of us is this God-shaped hole, just desperate to be filled with love and belonging and wholeness. The parts that recognize we bleed the same blood. The parts that recognize that–by and large–we’re after the same things: safe places for our children to grow into their full potential as human beings, places where fear is replaced by the confidence that they are loved.
We are, of course, screaming at each other via social media again. Because this is our poor excuse for public discourse in 2018. We formulate our hot takes and point our fingers and cast blame and rage at anyone who disagrees with our particular view…. And meanwhile we live in a world where teenagers are so angry and sad and lost that shooting up their classmates with too-accessible assault rifles almost weekly news.
And it breaks my heart. Because the din of our division and fear and anger is no place for real solutions, real action, real peace to emerge. The stage of our rage at each other is no place for our children to learn what it means to be community.
I recently binge-watched (for real–BINGE!) the series Hell on Wheels on Netflix, the story of a Confederate soldier and former slaveowner Cullen Bohannon, who, post war, and having lost everything, heads west to avenge his wife’s death, and finds himself working on the railroad. Get yourself to Netflix right now if you’ve missed it. It is raw. Gut-wrenching. Heart-breaking. But it also often gets right to the issues of what it means for competing world views and different life experiences to somehow make a new start together. As evidenced by Cullen’s deep friendship with a former slave, Elam. It is a rocky relationship, but it’s real. And honest. And is a vivid portrayal of how we find the bits of humanity in one another, and are then able to put our feet in the same direction and walk towards some sense of hope for a future we can’t name quite yet, but are determined to live into.
Y’all. We need to heed our better angels. With all we’ve got. I’m not entirely sure how we get to a point where those angels are our first and best guide, but I suspect there are two key things that have to happen. We’re going to have to 1) Listen first. and 2) Refrain from demonizing those who do not agree with us.
Look, I’m mad and sad as hell that our children are dying. And I have to repeat my own words, that I do not have time for fear, every damn morning that I take my precious daughter to school. Do not mistake my insistence on finding the humanity in one another, in asking for us to set aside our rage for some kind of cooperative effort, as my having settled. Or having been desensitized.
I’m mad and sad as hell.
But I also believe, with all that I am, that overcoming our inability to walk into some sort of No Man’s Land of this social-media driven battlefield we find ourselves in and find some common ground is going to take more guts, more grit, than we have ever known. It will take looking each other in the eye and saying, “I want my kids safe. You want yours safe. How can we do this together?” It will take naming again our values and listening for where our values are the same, even if by a slim margin, and building on that bit of sameness. It will take ceasing to attack and then seeking to heal. It will take laying off the snark and really talking to one another.
Y’all, I get it. We’re scared. All of us. And this is a mighty, complex and terrifying reality, this national crisis we’re in. But for the love of all that is holy, for the love of our beautiful children, we have got to find a better way.
Meanwhile, I’m praying fiercely this morning for Maddy.
And for Ruby and Gabriel. And for Livy and Ethan. And for Ellen and Sarah. And for Anna and Evan. And for Tedi and Chernet. And Madeline. And Dereon. And Graham and Ethan. And Grace and John. And Beckett and Jett. And every other kid I know and love, and their moms and dads, who I know, like me, will have to summon some extra courage to let them walk in the school building this morning.
Better angels. Better angels. Better angels.
The good parts of us. The good parts of us. The good parts of us.
May we find, somehow, a way for these things to prevail.
May it be so.
PS–Shoutout, as always, to Lincoln Elementary Performing Arts School, for being a place that teaches kids first, and always, to take care of each other. They are family. And we are grateful.