Could we please have Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays back?
I know they got sucked into President’s Day, but why? Did we pile up too many national days off that we had to consolidate observances of two great presidents with all the others? Were all the other presidents jealous of these great ones? Is this another in the growing line of missteps intended to democratize everything, including virtue, so that no one may be honored above any other, lest we offend?
Maybe we are supposed to think only of Lincoln and Washington on that one day, not all the presidents. I never got the memo. But if that’s the plan, I can bend that far. After all, there is at least one thing common to the two that is worthy of honor and reflection – truth-telling.
“Honest Abe,” we call Lincoln. He always tried to do right rightly. In the midst of a war that divided brother against brother, that itself was an achievement worth remembering and emulating. The father of our country, George Washington “could not tell a lie,” they say. I know the chopping down of the cherry tree story is probably myth, but why do we make myths? To say big things in ways big enough to do them justice.
The story draws us into a moral moment of truth and asks us if we are prepared to do likewise. There are consequences, of course. Boy George’s daddy would discipline him for the chopping sin. But the bigger truth is that there are bigger consequences to lying.
In her book, The Liar’s Club, Mary Karr quotes R.D. Laing: “We have our secrets and our needs to confess. We may remember how, in childhood, adults were able at first to look right through us, and into us, and what an accomplishment it was when we, in fear and trembling, could tell our first lie, and make, for ourselves, the discovery that we are irredeemably alone in certain respects, and know that within the territory of ourselves, there can be only our footprints.”
Lying cuts off access to your heart. It leaves you alone by preventing you from being known truly. Or loved deeply. Or worst of all, respected widely.
Lincoln and Washington were not perfect men. But by their agonizing truth-telling, they ennobled the office they held, gained our trust, and we honor them for that still.
Community cannot survive lies. “Let us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another,” the Apostle Paul pleaded (Ephesians 4:25).
In the wake of Bill Clinton’s impeachment on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, remembering Lincoln and Washington on President’s Day may help us regain true north on the moral compass.