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Katie’s Musings: Legacy

Cassie Williams
January 19 2017

On February 24th, on a rainy, gloomy day that had left me somewhat ragged and entirely drenched, I found myself staring up into the giant stone-face of Abraham Lincoln.

I remember the date because it was my Grandpa’s 93rd birthday that day, and when it’s your WWII vet Grandpa’s birthday and you are stuck in DC overnight because of a snowstorm in Chicago, and you’re faced with a free-but-rainy afternoon near the National Mall, what else can you do but make your way to the WWII memorial and take pictures for him?  I’d brought a giant umbrella with me and a change of shoes, and to be honest, I really love the rain, so I found a free map and headed in the direction of the memorial.

I think there’s something about walking the National Mall in the rain.  The only other time I’ve been to DC was in high school, when I went on the International Affairs Seminary with the NE Conference of the UCC.  It was raining then, too, and I remember the eerie feeling of walking through the Korean War Memorial, among lifelike statues of soldiers wearing rain gear and looking miserable.  Rain in the National Mall lends an air of solemnity and gravitas.  I took the pictures for my grandpa, blew a kiss into the wind, and continued my walk, past the Washington memorial, the empty-for-the-winter reflecting pool, past the cherry trees, laid bare by the colder weather.
The Lincoln Memorial stands at the opposite end of the Mall from where I started, so by the time I got there and climbed the steps, I was soggy and exhausted.  The rain had driven the more sane visitors indoors for the day, so it was pretty much me, Abe, and a disinterested-looking security guard.
From where ol’ Abe sits, he’s got a pretty great view.  He looks out over the mall and beyond, keeping an eye on the lawmakers on the hill, looking every ounce the statesman who’s seen it all already.

And as I stared into his face, I thought a thought I’ve often thought when looking a depictions of people chosen for immortality by our society:  did he know?  As he was writing his speeches and making the unenviable yet inevitable decisions of a war-torn country, lying in his bed trying to sleep at night, eating his lunch and playing with his kid, contemplating the intricacies of foreign relations and writing letters to the mothers of dead soldiers, attempting to navigate being simultaneously savior of the Union and a mere human being who puts on his pants the same as everyone else does… did he know?  Could he have known?  Could he possibly have had any concept of the impact of his actions?  The legacy he would leave behind?

Or maybe did he long, quietly and secretly, for the old days, back when life was simpler and slavery was a looked-over reality, and no new thing or idea or way of being was threatening everything he held near and dear?  Did he wish he’d just hung out in Illinois and been a lawyer after all, lived a life that was quieter?

And did he… could he have had any concept of who “Abraham Lincoln” would become after his death?

And really… do any of us?

Our human and national and world history are filled with human beings who lived and breathed and did stuff and died, leaving their descendants behind to sort out their legacy.  And the arc of history is long, and it is not always kind, and it is told after the fact and often in the voice of the winner.

But a truth does remain, stalwart and reliable:  it has always and will always bend, eventually and ultimately, toward justice for all humankind.

At least, that’s what I think.