Tuesday, November 19, 2013

An Anniversary Too Important to Let Slip By Unnoticed

I am blown away at how little attention is being paid to the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.  And so, I have been moved to words, and to sharing them through this too often ignored vehicle...


7 Score and 10 years ago, today,
An American President –
A giant, both in his day, and in history –
Travelled to a blood-soaked battlefield in Pennsylvania –
Site of a critical moment in our nation’s history –
And began, while the war still raged around us,
The process of sanctifying the ultimate sacrifice of those who gave their lives,
And the holy work of reuniting and healing our nation.

Few gathered that day could have anticipated
What that visit, and the speech that he gave on that occasion,
Would come to be in our nation’s history and psyche.
How 10 sentences, scrawled by hand on an envelope back,
Could totally capture the gravity
Of the event being remembered,
And the site of the battle,
And the needs of all the American people
For wholeness and peace.
Nor would anyone in Gettysburg that day,
Have been able to believe
That the visionary, compassionate architect
Of this needed reconciliation
Would be taken from his country
Even as the embers of the last battle guttered down.

His simple words from the heart that day
Guided a people still divided,
To begin to find their way back to one another.
They turned those blood-stained acres
Into a national shrine –
One to which we all had equal access
and of which we could all claim ownership,
One which still awes its visitors with its immensity and quiet holiness today.

Today, we barely even pause to remember –
And if we do remember, we do so
Without looking inside of ourselves,
Without acknowledging our country’s reality –
We give no honor to the man nor to the moment we recall.
It is as if we do not remember,
Choose not to learn,
The lessons of that day --
The battle that preceded it,
And the war that raged around it still.
It is as if all of the herculean efforts of the man –
First to keep the Union intact,
Then to keep us from self-destruction,
And finally to bring us towards reconciliation –
Were nothing more than mere words
Scribbled on a piece of paper,
Destined to be only noted and remembered,
But sadly, still, never fully taken to heart in our national life.

And so, as we remember on this solemn day,
Let us pledge to ourselves and to each other,
To keep faith and make real his soaring words on this day –
To keep the memories of those he came to remember,
And what they gave their lives for, as well as he, his own --
That government of the people, by the people, for the people
Shall not perish from the earth.

Rabbi Stephen J. Weisman

November 19, 2013