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Saturday
Nov262016

Food For Thought!

The following short strory was posted on The Daily Blog on Sunday 13 November:

Midnight in Washington

A chill autumn wind, laced with rain, sweeps across the reflecting pool at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. The water is agitated: the reflection of the Washington Monument’s towering obelisk fluid and fragmentary. The National Mall has wrapped the darkness of this bleak November night tightly around itself like a comforter.  

Two figures – a young man and a young woman – emerge from the shadows and begin to climb the steps leading up to the temple of the Republic’s tutelary deity. As they mount the memorial’s broad staircase the great seated statue of Abraham Lincoln is gradually revealed behind its screen the towering Doric columns.  

The figure is artfully lit. The Colorado marble blazes like white fire, transforming the giant sculpture’s gaunt countenance into a chiselled battlefield of darkness and light. The rail-splitter-turned-president’s gnarled hands grasp the arms of his mighty seat as if straining to pull the lanky body to its feet. As if, above the wailing of the wind, it hears again the distant rumble of enemy guns, the staccato drumbeat of civil strife.  

The young couple stare up at the silent statuary. Hugging each other for warmth. Silent in the presence of the author of the Gettysburg Address, the Great Emancipator, the Union’s martyred saviour. Together, they recite the words incised into the rear wall of the temple:  

IN THIS TEMPLE
AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE
FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION
THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
IS ENSHRINED FOREVER  

“I wonder what he would say, if he was here”, whispers the young woman. “I wonder how he’d react to President Trump.”  

A brittle sound, like uncrumpling cellophane, sends the couple reeling back in fright. Impossibly, the massive, frock-coated figure has become mobile. It bends forward, head lowered, eyes alive, a faint smile playing about its lips.  

“Well, Miss, I reckon I’d ask him what in the name of the Good Lord he believes himself to be doing to my Republican Party.”  

“What would you say to the people who voted for him?” The young man struggled to maintain eye contact with the giant stone president.  

“I would tell them that those who attempt to deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.”  

“And those of us who voted against him, Mr President, what should we do.”   The giant leaned back in his chair and stroked his marble chin.  

“I seem to recall saying once that you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. If I were in your shoes, Miss, I reckon I’d allow Friend Trump a few more yards of rope.”  

“But the man’s such a fool and his followers are so loathsome!” The young woman objected.  

“Maybe so, Miss, maybe so. But they are also you’re fellow Americans. If they are disposed, as you say, to follow a fool, then it is surely pertinent to ask what made them so ill-disposed to follow those who delight in calling themselves wise? And if they are loathsome, who made them so?”  

“Those are fair questions, Mr President, but we are fearful of what this man may do to the United States, to its people, it’s institutions.”  

The great face settled into something like its usual contours. The eyes once again hooded, the mouth grimly set.  

“This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it. Or, at least, that, in my grimmer moments, was what I used to say. But through four long years of the most awful slaughter, I came to realise how ruinous the fall of a divided house can be. My belief, now, is that those who cry ‘Let justice be done, though the heavens fall!’, should be required to take up residence in the ruins. Democracy is a fragile thing, my young friends, do not be too quick to condemn its fruits. Those produced by just about every other form of human government are much, much, worse.”  

“But is this truly democracy, Mr President?”  

The great figure seemed to stiffen.  

“You know I sat on a train once, pen in hand, mulling over how best to sum up what so many young men were dying to preserve. At the time I didn’t think that much of my conclusions, but it has pleased me to see how kindly the passing years have received the final words of my address.”  

 The wind outside the temple roared and bellowed. Autumn leaves whirled between the columns. The young couple shivered – even as the statue froze into its accustomed pose. A gravelly whisper, mingled with the wind, ran around the stone walls of the Lincoln Memorial. The young couple, recognising the long dead president’s words, added their own living voices to his fading peroration.   

“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.”   

 

 


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