You can grow ideas, in the garden of your mind.
All you have to do is think, and they’ll grow”
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, November 22, 2013—It is the question on everybody’s lips today, an infamous day for any American alive in this country 50 years ago. It was the first time I can remember when the music began to die: Where Were You?
It’s virtually impossible for anyone to forget where they were on November 22, 1963. Unfortunately, it’s proven to be more than possible to forget the why.
What is it, exactly, that creates an atmosphere in which men believe it reasonable to take another’s life because of disparate views of an ideal, or a lack of same?
What is the underlying factor that, from time to time, causes a misguided individual to commit murder and alter the course of history in the name of God and country?
Why, because of political irrationality, must a man who, reaching for an ideal, stands his ground and it costs him his life?
The events of this day two score and 10 years ago in all likelihood began when the 16th President of the United States gave a short speech seven score and 10 years ago on a hallowed patch of Pennsylvania ground, two years into a war waged because not everyone believes that all men are created equal.
Parenthetically, I wonder what he would think about a faction of individuals from his own party being motivated not by peace, or by equanimity, or by equality, or humanity, but by self-interest dedicated to the proposition that what makes this country great is its wealth and the power it can buy.
How much have things really changed in 150 years after a national battlefield was dedicated because of a war that pit neighbor against neighbor and brother against brother which began, ironically, on a July 4th in 1863?
The essence of the American ideal was expressed by a man who believed that the memory of the men who lost their lives in battle would be remembered long beyond the words dedicated to the memory. Those 272 words are as meaningful today as they were 150 years ago. Remember:
“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.
“We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that the nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.
“The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.
“That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
What is it about American karma that consumes its destiny every 50 years? Recall that it was 100 years later when a great preacher from Georgia wrote a speech intended as homage to the address at Gettysburg and as commemoration of a doctrine proclaiming emancipation:
“I have a dream…” he said.
“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred…
“I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream...
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..."
“My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring..."
“So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
“Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
“Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
“Let freedom ring from the snowcapped mountains of Colorado.
“Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
“But not only that...
“Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
“Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
“Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi, from every mountain side, let freedom ring …”
The ideal began as an idea that grew in the garden of his mind.
The lives of great men, including the one we remember today, were taken because they stood their ground, dedicated in large measure to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Has anybody here seen these old friends, or must their ideals, like flesh and blood, also be snuffed out by the assassin’s bullet?
I can tell you exactly where I was on this day 50 years ago. I was right here, right now.