A mercy more than life
I don’t have a lot of eloquent words tonight, but my heart is full of gratitude… I am overwhelmed by a sense of giftedness, here in America. I am captured by a sense of destiny and great responsibility.
I well understand Lincoln’s humble words on July 7, 1863. Days before, the people of Washington, D.C. heard the guns of Gettysburg grow silent, and they knew the matter had been decided. Word came on the wind of the Union victory at Gettysburg, and also Vicksburg, and Lincoln stood in the gloaming on the 7th, before a crowd of people and reporters.
Lincoln knew the occasion demanded high words, words of heart, character and valor – words of beauty and eternal nature. And yet, his heart was still overwhelmed by the gratitude of the moment: the battle tide had turned, as well he sensed. So with characteristic humility, and classic deference, he said, “Gentlemen,” he added, “this is a glorious theme, and a glorious occasion for a speech, but I am not prepared to make one worthy of the theme and worthy of the occasion.”
He briefly spoke of the glory of a people with representative rule… and how relatively short such experience had run on the world stage – facing now, in Civil War, what was at heart a great rebellion against that fragile experiment of human freedom. He then offered these words to the gathered throng:
Recent events bring up certain names, gallantly prominent, but I do not want to particularly name them at the expense of others, who are as justly entitled to our gratitude as they. I therefore do not upon this occasion name a single man. And now I have said about as much as I ought to say in this impromptu manner, and if you please, I'll take the music.
Catch that? The occasion was so high that he dared not besmirch it with impromptu words. That, my friends, is the heart of Lincoln, and a snapshot of America's ideal.
It’s the way I feel tonight. My heart is full of the glory of this freedom, this spacious place free from restriction… standing tonight in the shadows of my room are family members who fought in major conflicts… Sebastian Mershimer is there, still carrying the scars of Valley Forge, the hard endurance of seven years of war. And there, behind him, a glimpse of a bloody Civil War uniform… Another steps forward, with the mud of France on his WWI boots… and another, of the greatest generation, bearing the hallowed badges of WWII... and here, stern and compassioned, my grandfather Loy Sebastian and father Gerald Loy… men who lived so well the responsibilities of freedom!
My silent room grows full, as faithful men and women file in… root and branch from whence I am sprung, lovely and glowing eyes of heritage that demand from me something more than self, a courage, a love of mercy more than life.
And so I write, with heart full, to express gratitude… but not to write!
As Lincoln later returned to the stage with words well worthy of the moment, words that would echo in the chambers of the heavens, words that would cause Gettysburg crippled to weep with gratitude, that they had the honor of giving arms and legs and sight for something greater than themselves, so I may return if God wills. But not tonight!
Tonight, my heart is full of music… full of gratitude. So, ‘if you please, I’ll take the music.’