A reminder of hope
To the Editor:
Hope is often the first casualty in our crisis-hyped, media-filled world. Every day, news floods us about all the conflicts and divisions erupting. In the face of all these conflicts, we are tempted to give up on hope and retreat to some false place of individual isolation. And we are tempted to think that no other generation has encountered such shocks to their sense of hope and self-confidence. But we have an inspirational example from the past, and we are reminded of this example during the month of February, when we commemorate the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.
Lincoln is perhaps the most celebrated of America’s heroic and brilliant leaders. But his life was filled with setbacks and sorrows. He had every reason to give up hope. Abraham Lincoln’s youth was one of hardship. He had to work instead of going to school, so he educated himself. His mother died when he was young. Prior to winning the presidency in 1860, he lost that famous 1858 Senate election to Stephen Douglas. As he traveled to Washington, D.C., for his inauguration in 1861, the country was already preparing for war. People were blaming his election for the outbreak of war. Lincoln had to arrive in Washington in disguise for his inauguration, so as to avoid violent mobs.
During his presidency, Lincoln was beset by enemies from every corner, even from his own party and even from his own cabinet. His entire presidency was absorbed with the worst war of America’s history. Daily reports of human carnage barraged his desk in the White House. The first battle of the Civil War saw his Union troops retreat in panic. Until late in the war, he couldn’t find a general who could beat the Confederate army of Robert E. Lee. In the presidential election of 1864, Lincoln was even challenged by one of his former generals.
Lincoln also suffered from personal sorrows. In the midst of all the defeats and setbacks of the war, Lincoln lost his beloved son Willie to a premature death from fever in 1862. His wife drifted into indifference and depression, and Lincoln personally suffered from what was known as melancholy. Abraham Lincoln had countless reasons for giving up hope. But he refused to do that. He led the nation through its most threatening crisis. Despite his own troubles, he cared deeply for the well-being of his soldiers. Many a night he spent sitting at the telegraph office, anxiously awaiting news of the current battle, and he walked often to the military hospitals to visit the injured soldiers. Lincoln endured so triumphantly through his own struggles and setbacks that he gave the nation its most famous and inspirational of all political speeches, the Gettysburg Address.
But Abraham Lincoln’s lessons to us do not end with his speeches, they live on through the example he gave us. Over the course of his four and a half years as president, he almost single-handedly kept the United States of America united as a nation. So when we celebrate his birthday in 2018, we really celebrate the lessons of hope he provided us more than 150 years ago.
Michael G. Garry