This weekend is many things to many people… to Hollywood, it’s a mega-movie weekend. School kids either get a long weekend or, as with my own, it marks the beginning of summer break. It is full of parties at parks and grilling in the backyard… it’s a day of entry into summer and a celebration of family and community. It is all these things… but at its heart, it began and continues to be a day of memory… a day to mark the pain and poignance of lives lost in defense of our country.
It is, however, more complicated than that in its origins as it was born out of the Civil War. It was born out of a conflict in which the lives lost were taken by other lives lost – a war where brother fought brother over the vision of the future of our country and the nature of our communion. In many ways, we are still fighting that war – less brutal in war dead and yet still with scars and emotions that run deep.
As we prepare to enjoy the company and companionship, the blessings of creation and the joys of creativity this weekend may we also remember the lives lost in service to the ideals of this country’s project: a place where such joy and blessing may be freely enjoyed by all. And I leave you, to that end, with these words of memorial that are Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” (the *Bliss copy):
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
*Note: I remark that this is the Bliss Copy because there is not a single version of the Gettysburg Address. The Bliss copy is the most common and most authoritative because it was signed by Lincoln himself though it was a later copy with likely revision from what was spoken at the Memorial. There are five known copies of the address plus the Associated Press version telegraphed on the day of delivery from notes taken during the event. That makes for fun reading and investigating! 🙂