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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

A Portrait of Greatness********

Linoln's last photograph
From the National Archives, Washington, DC

*Chicago Tribune
April 22, 2011
as "Lincoln's Last Portrait"

*KWGN Television/CW 2 Denver, CO
April 22, 2011
as "Lincoln's Last Portrait"

*Allentown, PA  Morning Call
April 22, 2011
as "Lincoln's last portrait"

*Newport News, VA Daily Press
April 22, 2011
as "Lincoln's last portrait"

*Fort Lauderdale, FL South Florida Sun-Sentinel
as "Lincoln's last portrait"

*WTKR Norfolk, VA
April 22, 2011
as "Lincoln's Last Portrait"

*Orlando, FL Sentinel
as "Lincoln's last portrait"

*Somerset, PA Daily American
April 23, 2011
as "Lincoln's last portrait"

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

Years ago in what seems to have been another life, I was a music major. I had always been around classical music since it was Dad’s favorite. But in performing those masterpieces, I gained a new appreciation for their beauty and majesty.

One piece in particular has always stirred my heart.

Aaron Copland was asked to write a musical portrait of a famous American. It was 1942; the country needed inspiration, and so Copland chose Abraham Lincoln.

It’s a remarkable story. From a simple frontiersman, Abraham Lincoln rose to the most powerful office in the land during our nation’s darkest hour.   His words are revered to this day, touchstones of strength and leadership, particularly in these times when great statesmen are needed, but are seemingly nowhere to be found.

Copland’s symphony “A Lincoln Portrait” wedded excerpts from the President’s speeches with a musical composition of gravity, dignity, and inspiration.

But the real power of “A Lincoln Portrait” is in the narration. Over the years, it has been performed by a long list of distinguished actors, citizens and politicians including Henry Fonda, James Earl Jones, President Obama, and Pirate great Willie Stargell.  At one performance in a South American country, the words spoken by a fiery Latino actress actually sparked a revolution.

The narration opens with the stirring words:

"Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history."

“We of this congress and this administration
will be remembered in spite of ourselves.
No personal significance or insignificance
can spare one or another of us.
The fiery trial through which we pass
will light us down in honor or dishonor
to the latest generation.
We, even we here, hold the power and bear the responsibility."

While a message to congress, it remains a message to us all today. In a representative republic it is the voters who exercise the real power. The cynical might disagree, but note that the party of power in America has shifted more often in the last 20 years than it has in our entire history.

Yes. Voters did that.

It is also "We the People" who hold the power and bear the responsibility.

"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate
to the stormy present.
The occasion is piled high with difficulty
and we must rise with the occasion.
As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.
We must disenthrall ourselves
and then we will save our country."

Lincoln says to us that we must rise together and face troubles, instead of surrendering to them.  And if we cannot discard partisan baggage, than the solutions we seek will forever elude us, and will ensure our eventual downfall.

"It is the eternal struggle between two principles,
right and wrong, throughout the world.
It is the same spirit that says
'you toil and work and earn bread, and I'll eat it.'
No matter in what shape it comes,
whether from the mouth of a king
who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation,
and live by the fruit of their labor,
or from one race of men
as an apology for enslaving another race,
it is the same tyrannical principle."

"As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.
This expresses my idea of democracy.
Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference,
is no democracy."

Stand strong on principals of morality and ethics.  And do not inflict on others what you would not withstand yourself.

Abraham Lincoln’s finest words, however, were spoken upon the torn and bloodied battleground of Gettysburg. Lincoln spoke movingly of the sacrifice of those who fell in the battle, what the victory meant to us all.

It also speaks for every American who has ever gone into battle for the cause of freedom:

"That from these honored dead we take increased devotion
to that cause for which they gave
the last full measure of devotion.

That we here highly resolve
that these dead shall not have died in vain.

That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom;

and that government of the people,
by the people,
and for the people
shall not perish from the earth.”

“A Lincoln Portrait” captures the essence of the man who many consider, after George Washington, to be our greatest President; the ideal of strength, courage and leadership.

Aaron Copland crafted a portrait of a great man.

And in so doing, defined us as a nation.

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