I’ve been reading articles for weeks leading up to this day, most are arcane discussions of exactly where and how Lincoln wrote it; even more insufferably, exactly where he stood when he gave his two minute speech (some scholar spent years analyzing the photographs from the dedication of the National Cemetery on Cemetery Ridge and, in a five page article, explains that Lincoln was definitely 40 or so yards away from the spot marked at Gettysburg).
Maybe it’s our stat driven, fantasy baseball/football, trivia obsessed, re-enactor driven, ‘where, exactly, was my great-great-great grandfather’s regiment’, mentality but it seems that we are in a period of studying trees at the expense of even noticing the forest.
Lincoln was a last minute invite to the dedication, he sat through a two hour oration by the featured speaker, Edward Everett – who had asked for, and received – months of preparation. He was surrounded by fresh graves, men were still dying from their wounds in the hospitals around Washington, the townspeople of Gettysburg had only recently been relieved of the lingering stench of decomposition that had hung over them since July. . . and in roughly two minutes Lincoln made sense of it all. For then and now.
The words were and are what count. I memorized them when I was thirteen, there was a school wide competition, the finalists addressed an open soccer field, a group of teacher/judges stood alone at midfield. A girl won, she had nailed the emotion while the boys yelled out the words.
As Ken Burns shows in his new documentary, the words are tough to memorize, but they stay with you and take on greater and greater meaning as one ages, experiences, empathizes. They do not lend themselves to trivia.