Mr. Lincoln spoke very briefly that day, November 19, 1863. He spoke gravely, as a leader who deeply understood, and grieved at, the terrible, bloody price being paid for our freedom. What he said has filled and inspired the consciousness of us who have, over these last 150 years, benefited from the sacrifice of those brave men at Gettysburg. Here is a small shrapnel of what he said:
"But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate--we cannot consecrate--we cannot hallow-- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."
Nowadays, we may ask ourselves what were those men struggling for? What have all our soldiers, past and present, lived and died fighting for? Mr. Lincoln's final sentence that day reinforced it:
. . . that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
This Memorial Day, we should remind ourselves of this principle too--government by the people-- as we remember the men and women who have died on battlefields all around the world for us people, so that we can live free.
Are you actually making the best use of that freedom that these brave soldiers fought for? Or is your power to act favorably-- on behalf of yourself and those you love-- is that power, your personal initiative, your energy, buried in the ground somewhere on some lapsed battleground of your life? Is your impulse to serve others hiding in a bag of potato chips? or a carton of beer? Is it taking refuge behind the glass of a flat screen tv?
You, you who are reading this, ask yourself:
Am I a person? Am I one of those "people" whose responsibility is to govern?
Or have I abdicated? Have I ceded my personal responsibilities as an American to some other person or agency? Is my freedom to act and prosper locked in a harddrive, on a desktop, somewhere in Washington, DC? Or in my state's capital? Have I signed off on my freedom to act?
98 years after President Lincoln addressed, at Gettysburg, the heart issues of our nation's purpose--government by the people-- President John Kennedy said:
"Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."
This, too, we need to remember, and act upon, instead of looking for handouts or unearned entitlements, instead of waiting for superman to bail us out of whatever couch-potato cushion we are stuck in. Are you doing your part to keep our United States of America a nation of free citizens, who are willing and capable to act on your own so that you and all the rest of us may benefit?
What have you done this week to make our country a better place? Did you do your job? Did you look for a job? Did you read something worthwhile? Did you break a sweat, hammer a nail, or cook a meal? Did you pick up your own trash, clean your plate after the meal, help load the dishwasher? Did you speak kindly to someone? Did you speak correction to yourself or your best friend? Did you plant a seed. I mean, it is spring. We can get out now and see what the real world looks like.
What's going on out there? And what does it mean that "the people," govern? Do I get a fancy desk and a legislative vote-on-the-bill button to push? Probably not. But you and I, as people, do have certain responsibilities thrust upon us, lest our great ship of state plunge to the depths of lethargy.
Although we cannot, as President Lincoln said, truly consecrate that hallowed ground at Gettysburg, there is something we can and should do.
Are you doing your part in governing this great nation? Many men and women have died so that you could exercise that privelege. Use it. Find something that needs to be done and do it, whether you're getting paid for it or not.