Tuesday, February 17, 2009
What normal woman doesn't have a favorite ex-president?
Whenever I doubt the depth of my nerdiness, I simply look at my bookshelves and office walls, filled with biographies of Abraham Lincoln, the collected letters of Lincoln and photos of Lincoln, and then I think about how the five dollar bill is my favorite item of currency simply because Abraham Lincoln is imprinted on the front of it and I am reminded of one simple fact: I don't think normal women care this much about dead politicians. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
I'm a day late for President's Day and a few days late for Lincoln's bicentennial but I couldn't resist taking this opportunity to proclaim my deep and abiding love for America's 16th president, the tall fellow recently named America's best president by a team of experts, aka, guys who read far dustier books than I do.
I've always been fascinated with Lincoln, ever since I read one of those children's biographies of him when I was tiny. It was filled with all those apocryphal tales of rail splitting and walking miles to return a penny and learning to read by candlelight, and all those wonderful tales that give you faith in grown-ups when you're small.
And when I got older and continued to read about him, even though those early stories fell by the wayside, the man still did not disappoint me. Of course he had his flaws but still, when he was faced with the biggest challenge this country had faced since the Revolution, he rose to the occasion and became Herculean in his steadfast desire to keep the country whole. And he did it all without losing his soul or his humanity.
Maybe that's what I admire most about him: he rose to the occasion when lesser men -- like so many of his generals -- crumbled. And he made those people around him better.
I also like the fact that Lincoln was a quirky fellow who had a sense of humor and liked to tell awful jokes. I like the fact that he would open the White House doors to visitors and answer letters from children. I like that he loved his family, even his crazy wife. And my God, I love the fact that the man could write. If you've never had the opportunity to read Lincoln's collected letters, do it. And then ponder the fact that this almost completely self-educated man managed to keep a nation together with his words. It's extraordinary.
It's nice to have a hero that doesn't disappoint you. That's how I feel about Abe. That's why I go to the Lincoln Memorial every single time I'm in DC. That's why I scamper to see his hat and his pocketwatch every time I go to The Henry Ford here in Michigan. It does my heart good to remember that there are, from time to time, leaders who are truly worthy of being followed.
And every year when President's Day rolls around, I'm also reminded why I'm happy being a nerdy woman: I'm truly ok with knowing far more about Abraham Lincoln than I do about Lindsey Lohan or Katie Holmes. He's certainly far more worthy of my attention...and he's the only one of the three to ever be played by Sam Waterston. That's an achievement in and of itself!
Happy late birthday, Abe. You'll always be my favorite. If there's a Twitter in heaven, I'm totally following you.
So what about you? Do you have a favorite historical figure?