Wednesday, October 08, 2008

So sad

My boss loaned me his copy of Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin back in the spring. I was very excited to read the 750+ page book about President Abraham Lincoln. I settled into the bench seat on the commuter train, took out the book and cracked it open to the first page.

"Oh! I read that book!" announced my seat mate. He seemed the stereotypical hockey dad - subsequent conversation confirmed he had several sons playing hockey - and had a thick local accent. He did not seem like someone who would have read the 754 pages of first person accounts of the life and times of Lincoln.

"But the ending, it is so sad" he said with great reverence and sorrow. Yes, sorrow.

I must have given him the most incredulous look. I did know that Lincoln died after being shot. Fortunately I rose above my irritation to have a lovely conversation with him about sports, raising sons and commuting on the train.

This weekend I sat in my parked van in the driveway while the boys slept after a ride on the highway and read the final 20 pages of Team of Rivals.

I completely understand the hockey dad's comment. Days after finishing the book I am still in mourning for an American President who violently died 143 years ago.

President Lincoln was not only an incredible president but an amazing human being. He was gracious, smart and funny. He used his humor to both settle tense situations but also to express his point. After his assassination, the book notes several diary entries and letters in which the writers express concern for the nation since the Civil War had only barely ended and Lincoln was still fighting for the Confederacy to be welcomed back into the nation with dignity and grace - a position not shared by hard-line Unionists.

If Lincoln had finished his second term, maybe even had one or two more years, his more magnanimous handling of the separatists would have taken hold. Maybe the South wouldn't continue to act as if the Civil War The War of Northern Aggression was still being fought. Maybe Jim Crow laws would have never taken effect. Maybe our country could have learned from the ultimate test the Civil War put on this "government of the people, by the people, for the people" as Lincoln said in Gettysburg, PA in 1863.

I wish I could take back that crazed look I gave my seat mate. I understand now.

The ending. It is so sad.

7 comments:

Jenn in Holland said...

Wow. It sounds like a wonderful biography. I am intrigued.

Jami said...

Here's what worries me: Lincoln - in all his wisdom - picked a VP running mate to garner votes from the South. Then Andrew Johnson became President when Lincoln was killed. Johnson was strongly in favor of punishment for Confederate leaders, not reconciliation, and went on to veto the first Civil Rights bill (passed over his veto) and block the 14th Amendment to the Constitution (also ultimately approved). See any connection to today's political situation?

Flower Child said...

I totally understand! I read No Ordinary Time (Goodwin) about FDR. I cried so hard when he died - like I didn't expect it. so sad

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Lovely post.

Jami has a good point, too.

Kate said...

Good point. Sounds like a great book.

soccer mom in denial said...

Jami -

I was talking to my boss about finishing the book (finally) and how I finally understood why the ending was so sad. The loss of possibility and the sense of how could our country be different/better/more inclusive if Lincoln had served his second term.

My boss likened Lincoln to Mandela. While South Africa is certainly struggling it would be a completely different place if he hadn't survived his incarceration or not served his full term as president.

Goofball said...

sounds like an intreguing book indeed. and I feel ignorant about your country's history