Now here's an interesting project, Ken Burns having distinguished people reading the Gettysburg Address, each to his or her own style. Several are atrocious. David Gregory's is read by, well, David Gregory. Stephen Colbert's is absurd. But each reading reveals the affects and ego of the individual, in a way one senses Lincoln's original did not allow.
Having slept on it, and watched a few more readings of the address, most falling in the two minute range, from professional politicians and actors and newspeople, to the amateurs, with a touch of the Shakespearean clown of the comedian, my sense of Lincoln's achievement is confirmed. What he accomplished in his brief paragraphs reflects his own struggles, and it also presents a test, or almost a trap. He knew, though he was not a big church goer at all, the words of the Bible, and he would had understood that psychology of Christ's, that indeed, there are 'beams,' or 'motes,' or however you'd want to call the things that get into our 'eyes,' that interfere with our sight. And he knew, I'd gather, that, as Jesus said, you couldn't help remove the stuff in other people's eyes if you had the same in yours. And so, oddly, the 'ego-less'--a fair term, I think--or clear-eyed writing of these words leaves some other people caught out in their egos, and they cannot help it. They don't have the depth, because their own climbs to power have left them with egos that make it hard for them to see.
Having watched the second part of PBS American Masters on JFK, where he runs for the Presidency, it is clear that the man was a political master, a calculator, a shrewd judge, perhaps moreso than a younger man once gathered from reading Sorenson's Kennedy with a bit more glow and illusions on life. Indeed, growing up, one realizes it all really is about politics, and you have to be on your toes constantly and not thinking of anything but politics really. Enough with the high ideals.
And yet, here is Lincoln, and his speech. And from the long lens of 150 years, as it settles, there is that quality, the representation of a life that had its costs, losing his mother early on, not having a good relationship with his father, etc., but that had its gains, gains of wisdom, gains of something we might call clear-eyed, psychologically balanced, a stripping away of ego. And still, it's all quite remarkable.
People haven't changed. Their egos still come out when they present themselves as who they think they are, as who they are trying to tell us they are, really often quite falsely. And it makes me wonder.
One hopes that one day the world would be without politics, that we could all agree on some basic things.
To my ear, Lincoln, who wrote every day, practiced a kind of mindfulness. If he could sit down and write out a thought, a few words, an analysis of things, as if reading from his Euclid, if he could sit and ponder over a word, like the word 'endure,' and what 'endure' really means, both in the abstract and in real world real experience terms, he could achieve something true.
And I know, back when I was a bartender, that small moment to write really meant all the difference in how I felt and what I could deal with.