A conversation with Lincoln (1)

[Thursday, February 9, 2006]

[Joseph Smallwood:]

If the war had ended with 1864 and Lincoln hadn’t gotten killed, there’s so much could have been better. Mr. Lincoln had been thinking about things, the way he did, and he knew the problems

[Suddenly it struck me!] You’ve been talking to him.

Yes I have, and yes you can too. This one ain’t a whim like the last idea you had.

Whew! A little overwhelming, the idea of it. Can I talk to him directly, or through you or how?

This ain’t entirely your idea. It’s set up, just be ready.

I say again, whew! All right, I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. Mr. Lincoln, if I really can contact you, you know I suppose how deep my admiration for you. I have tried to model myself on your example of kindness and goodwill.

Thank you. That form of emulation is the very best flattery. We all generally model ourselves on somebody whether consciously or not.

I take it that you, the completed Lincoln, are aware of our lives here and now.

This is the purpose of this series of communications, to put in a word about your lives and circumstances.

You are still a thinker, then, weighing and calculating.

You will not find yourself any different after you die than you were alive. This is a lesson many people have been teaching. It is in life that you shape yourself. After you are dead, your ability to remold yourself is greatly diminished.

So, Mr. Lincoln, please say what you want to tell us and I will do my best to bring it across.

Excessive admiration distances quite as much as contempt. Try to avoid either extreme, and it will go better.

Our attempt to create a union of states that would be strong enough to survive but not so strong as to lead to tyranny looked important enough when I viewed it from life. After I died though I got a clearer view of a thing I had seen only in glimpses while alive. The American experiment was about politics and power and freedom only at one level. On a different and perhaps a more profound level, it was about creating the framework for a new civilization, and that new civilization was to be the cradle of a new humanity.

This is why we were tormented by the race question, and the Indian question. The experiment had to be an experiment on behalf of all the world’s people, not just Englishmen in North America. The thing that was being worked out with us – through us – was bigger than we were. It was bigger than anything anyone could foresee, and in that it was just, and shows the wisdom of providence.

My strength – as yours in this different field – was my willingness to be led when I could foresee nothing, or could foresee only little. I led the Union effort by faith and charity, and only vaguely by hope, for in truth there was little enough reason for hope much of the time. I knew that we were serving a higher purpose, but for a long time I could not quite see what that purpose was, and so I never knew which actions and tendencies – however well-meant – might be aiding, and which contradicting, the working-out of that purpose. I could but do my best. That meant living in faith and charity, for I assumed that actions taken without malice were the most likely to accord with the purposes of the almighty, and actions taken in response to a situation, rather than to advance my fixed plans, would likewise best accord with a higher design.

Now, in modeling yourself after one who tried never to injure another, you must not imagine that it is possible to live life without doing injury. At best we live without intending to injure, but that weighs very heavily in our favor, as you may discover.

Now you in your day are tortured by questions without obvious answers, and challenges that seem hopelessly larger than probably solutions. Faith, and charity, and hope as best you can.

Faith – for you did not call forth these challenges, but yet they came forth out of the hand of providence specifically that your time might solve them.

Charity – for nothing is more sterile and self-defeating than hatred, and nothing is surer to go wrong and land you in a ditch.

Hope – because when you cannot see ahead, you need to steer by something. The harbor may be out of sight, but that does not mean it has ceased to exist.

Your times are not easier than mine, but not harder. You have greater resources and greater problems and the result is about the same. Think of how overwhelmed I was, so often, when you confront your own problems. I did not see how we could ever come through it. Many times it seemed to hinge on a jackstraw. When I did not know what to do, when there was nothing I could do but wait, then I learned about living in faith, and cherishing unreasonable hope.

My life with Mary had taught me patience. No doubt it might have taught her the same! That patience was sorely needed.

As you look at what we did, remember that to you it is clear what were our valid actions and what were our mistakes. Remember that to me, at least, it was often not clear even after the fact what was right and what not. So often necessary measures are a mixture of right and wrong, true actions and mistakes, and only arbitrary judges are quite sure. You have read ex parte Milligan. I remain convinced I did the only thing I could do. And all my actions were that same mixture of expedient and inexpedient, justifiable and perhaps not, sustainable and not.

You could write of my life if you wished to, for you understand my mainspring very well. (Yes, as did Billy Herndon.) Goodwill and good intentions and perseverance in doing the right as God gives us to see the right – that was my life, and all my many failings together did not prevail against a life lived with those few simple touchstones.

Mr. Lincoln, you know how deeply you are loved and appreciated. Does this effect your existence on that side?

Could it be otherwise? That is an extension of goodwill to me from those who valued what I worked to preserve, and especially the colored people who confused me – as the means of their salvation – with the providence whose instrument I was.

Well, you know how I feel about you! Did you want to say more?

This is enough for the moment.

Thank you. Thank you. And Joseph – thank you.

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