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Posts Tagged ‘Abraham Lincoln’

Lincoln enjoying a chat with Union soldiers.

Lincoln enjoying a chat with Union soldiers.

When my son Solomon was studying architecture in Florence during his college years, his homecoming after a year abroad was a much anticipated event for our family.  My most distinctive memory driving up to San Francisco International Airport that day, was my youngest daughter’s comment, “Mom, I can’t wait to hear Sol’s laugh.  I’ve missed it so much.” It struck me then how much we are defined by our laughter or lack thereof.

In Steven Spielberg’s new movie, Lincoln, the director brings out what is a seminal part of Lincoln’s character–his humor.  Previous films have tended to depict the solemn Lincoln bearing the weight of a nation at war upon his shoulders, and while it is true that he did do that, and felt deeply the anguish of that responsibility, it was partly his love of laughter that enabled him to get through that tumultuous time.  What Spielberg does so brilliantly is display the complex and multifaceted character of Lincoln.  It wasn’t as though Lincoln wasn’t grieving with a nation watching the slaughter of tens of thousands of its sons–he was grieving with them because he knew their grief very personally.  Lincoln had buried his beloved Willie (11) during his tenure in office, and had lost his son Edward (4) in 1850. Lincoln bore the nation’s grief and carried their sorrows.

But part of Lincoln’s genius lay in his ability to laugh in times of loss and despair.  Much of Lincoln’s humor was self-deprecating (see an earlier post on this here), and he loved to poke fun at human foibles, contradictions and paradox.  Amidst the strain of countless people vying for a piece of him, Lincoln nearly always found time to spin a yarn, recall a humorous anecdote, or crack a witty joke.  From his cabinet members, to his fellow politicians, his family, and the telegraph boy in the midnight War Office, Lincoln lightened their load just a tad, and thereby bestowed worth and dignity on each individual.

Reinhold Neibuhr–the theologian of the late 19th and early 20th century, said “Humor is a prelude to faith and/ Laughter is the beginning of prayer.”  There is a paradoxical connection between humor and the divine.  Somehow, within our ability to recognize our conflicted natures, find humor in our contradictions, and accept the conundrums of life, there is the mysterious working of grace.  I think Lincoln understood that.

Be sure to see this film.  Take your children to see it. And in 2013 let’s purpose to live with a bit more humor and a lot more grace.  Happy New Year.

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Dear Readers,

In my last posting I mentioned the work of Anita Silvey and recommended her resources for those “stories behind the stories” of great children’s books.  You can read that posting here.  Just a few weeks ago, Anita began publishing a blog entitled “Anita Silvey’s Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac.  In my humble opinion, Anita’s almanac will become the children’s literary counterpart to The Writer’s Almanac of Garrison Keillor.  This blog will introduce readers to countless classic as well as contemporary books that, as Anita notes, are on their way to becoming classics. And just like The Writer’s Almanac, the book postings will be connected to important historic milestones,  author’s birthdays, or other events related to the history of children’s literature.

On that note, today, November 19th, is the anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address of 1863.  To honor Lincoln, Anita kindly posted the story of our reissue of Abraham Lincoln by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire.  You can read her lovely post here.  If you’ve been touched by this book, post a comment on Anita’s site and tell her how this book has enlarged, enhanced or impacted your view of America’s 16th President.

As Anita notes, Ingri D’Aulaire’s family was living under Nazi occupation in Norway at the time she and Edgar were working on their biography of Lincoln’s life.  As European immigrants in America, the character of Lincoln so captured their imagination, that they saw in him and his remarkable story an antidote to the madness and insanity of Hitler‘s rise in Europe.  That was a key reason they were so drawn to his story at this tumultuous and trying time in history.  An in an ironic twist, the very day the D’Aulaire’s received the Caldecott Medal for this book, the famous Dunkirk evacuation was taking place.  So today, the anniversary of one of the world’s greatest speeches, pick up your copy of this remarkable book and remember the man behind the legend.  Happy reading!

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