Monday, February 21, 2011

It's President's Day -- Hail To The Chief . . .

Today is a holiday for schools, governmental agencies, banks, and who knows who else. It is a very nice three-day weekend that is sort of the norm here in the U. S. But that isn't the way I remember celebrating the birthdays of these two patriots.

When I was growing up we always had the 12th of February off from school because it was Abraham Lincoln's birthday. On the days before that holiday we got a solid education on his life, his education (three books in the log cabin to start with), his mother's death and the close relationship he had with his step-mother, his birth in Kentucky and then the family's move to Indiana, and so forth. Year after year we got the work on Mr. Lincoln, and year after year we were taught to refer to him as the Great Emancipator. He took office during the awful days just prior to the Civil War, and was assassinated just after being re-elected to his second term. He was a man of deep personal faith and often said that the War had made him pray far more than he ever planned to and had given him far more gray hair than he liked. It was during those years that he lost his son Tad, and the emotional instability of First Lady Mary Lincoln began to become apparent. What we would call chronic depression today was not so recognized then and after Mr. Lincoln's death, their son Robert really didn't treat her very well, and even had her "committed" a couple of times. Not a happy ending for her life, it would appear.

It was just the norm for February. With Groundhog Day on the 2nd, Valentine's Day on the 14th, and then the two presidential birthdays, February was a star-studded month. (We didn't have Martin Luther King Day then--he hadn't made his appearance on history's stage nor had he been assassinated yet. He was definitely around--learning to endure the frights of prejudice, going to school, learning to preach and being ordained as a Baptist pastor.)

And then, on the 22nd of February, we had another school holiday--George Washington's birthday--"the Father of our Country" as he was always referred to. In fact, when we were really new at school, in first or second grade, we thought that was his whole name: George Washington the Father of our Country. Took us a few years to realize one part was his name and the other a honorific title. He was our first president, a farmer who reluctantly agreed to be the Commander of the First Continental Army during the Revolutionary War--the War of Independence--and a man who truly believed in The Great Experiment--the forming of a country that was truly democratic. No one in the history of the planet had ever seen such a nation. Mr. Washington wanted in on the "ground floor". His home in Virginia was called Mt. Vernon, and he was anxious to return there after the War. He didn't live there for quite a few years as he was talked into becoming the first president of the Republic. Under the newly written Articles of Confederation, a document that preceeded our present Constitution, Mr. Washington took office and immediately ran into trouble with the Congress. Of course, it was a small, new, nation, with no money and no power among the international community, laughed at by Britain and France, and whose men were kidnapped and placed on British ships to serve as slaves for a period of two or three years. (This was the main reason for the War of 1812.)

We know that he was a fair man, with a deep faith in God, a practicing Episcopalian and one who believed that faith was null and void if one didn't live by its principles. He often struggled to know what was the wise thing to do, and during the War he often used his own resources to buy what little food he could when his troupes were starving. In fact, almost every member of the First Continental Congress ended up bankrupt because they all used their own personal wealth to finance the War. No one can ever say that they didn't put " their money where their mouth was."

So to Mr. Washington and Mr. Lincoln: Happy Birthday!! And thank you again for your service, for your dedication to the principles of liberty and justice for all, and for believing that The Great Experiment was worthy of your time and sacrifice. You have set an example for all our civil leaders and we bless you for your willingness to give not only your service, but your life for our benefit. We are still reaping the harvest of your goodness.

And to all of you, have a wonderful President's Day--stay warm and well, and may all of us aspire to bring the principles these men believed into our own lives. Blessings . . .

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