Back when I was a kid (yeah, we had cars and television then), we celebrated Lincoln’s Birthday on its actual day, February 12, and Washington got his due on his actual birthday on the 22nd. There was no convenient, generic “President’s Day” that always falls on a Monday. It’s really a shame we got away from that tradition of honoring each of these Presidents individually, especially today since it is the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of our greatest Presidents, Abraham Lincoln. Of all of our great Presidents, Lincoln is my favorite, hands down, and I have had three encounters with “Abe.”
On my first trip to Washington, D.C., I was a snotty-nosed, know-it-all junior in college. I was visiting my roommate from school who was an intern at The Washington Post, and my flight arrived about midnight. Mike met my flight at Dulles Airport, and on the way to his place, a basement apartment in Georgetown, we passed by the Lincoln Monument. We stopped and got out. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do at one in the morning, but it is my fondest memory of that trip. The monument was deserted, and Lincoln’s eyes seemed to follow me as we climbed the steps. In the quiet summer night, I could feel Lincoln’s presence in the open-air room, and it was both eerie and calming to feel his aura.
A few years ago, my wife Tina and I fulfilled one of my ambitions—to visit Gettysburg. That sacred spot in Pennsylvania represents service, sacrifice, and reconciliation. It was a cool spring day, and everyone at the Visitor’s Center was anxious to get out and explore the battlefield under the gloomy skies. Tina and I instead walked across the street to the spot where he gave the Gettysburg Address. I had the same feeling as I had in Washington many years before that Lincoln was with me. It was easy to imagine him on the dais where he wasn’t even the primary speaker. Yet, his humble, brief address is what we remember about the event.
The third encounter came just a year or so ago while on a train passing through Springfield, Illinois, the state capital where Lincoln became a national political figure. Of course, the city probably looks nothing like it did when Lincoln was practicing law there, but it was easy to picture him walking down the street. Springfield just looks like the kind of place a President should call home.
Even though today isn’t an official holiday any more, try to take a moment out of your busy day to reflect upon the life of this great American.