Lincoln's Birthday Reflections

John McManamy Health Guide
  • If anyone wants to know what I’ve been doing since the middle of December, I’ve been giving my website a complete overhaul. To give you a rough approximation of the enormity of the task, mopping up the Exxon-Valdez oil spill was a snap next to what I’ve been going through. The Augean Stables? Hah! Hercules never had to teach himself Dreamweaver.

    Anyway, I just looked up from my computer and - holy cow! - it’s February, already. Not only that, it’s Lincoln’s birthday, his real one. This is too good not to write about. You see, attending to my website after basically three years of neglect is kind of like doing a spring cleaning - lots of sorting through mementos, lots of memories, lots of presiding idly around over eclectic piles of this and that, cogitating, contemplating, and just plain tating and plating.
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    My early-post diagnosis articles, for instance. Relics of another era, authored by a pre-me version of me. Some genuine keepers, others in dire need of retirement. My memoirs of growing up are part of this collection. Five lengthy articles just gushed out of me in a mad stream in a one-week stretch in 1999, then the flow stopped, just stopped.

    “When I First Knew I Was Different,” reads the first one.

    It was like a light bulb went off after my diagnosis. Suddenly my whole life made sense. Suddenly I knew why growing up was so painfully hard. Suddenly I knew why the promise of graduating from growing up never eventuated. Men don’t cry, but I felt psychic tears flowing as I re-read these pieces. I wouldn’t change a word.

    But then there are parts of my life simply too painful to write about. This is where my muse fell silent, and has remained silent to this day. One day, perhaps, when I am ready.

    Then I pulled up a piece from 2005. “Lincoln and His Depressions,” based on a book that came out around that time, “Lincoln’s Melancholy” by Joshua Shenk. “Abraham Lincoln was different from Day One,” I read. My words. And a bit later: “There was much cause for sadness in Lincoln’s life.”

    I was hooked.

    I recall being moved to tears while reading Mr Shenk’s book. Lincoln spent literally his whole life in a state of unremitting depression. "I am now the most miserable man living," the 31-year-old Lincoln confessed. "Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell; I awfully forebode I shall not; To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better."

    He never really snapped out of it. His crushing burden merely became less crushing. He learned to cope. He threw himself into his work. He committed himself to marriage. He cultivated a wicked sense of humor. Anything to take his mind off his mind, anything to give his life a purpose, to ease the pain.

    But I also recall that reading the book was something of a religious experience. I literally felt the presence of greatness about me as I turned the pages. It was as if I were bathed in the light of a saint, and Lincoln most definitely was a saint, our great American saint, no question about that.

  • Mr Shenk points out that it was depression that forged Lincoln’s character, provided purpose to his life, and prepared him for the grim responsibilities ahead.
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    "I believe in this measure my fondest hopes will be realized," he confided to an old friend, soon after signing the Emancipation Proclamation. It was the one happy moment in the book. This same friend had been by Lincoln’s side some two decades before when he was suicidally depressed.

    Mr Shenk also contends that Lincoln’s depressions fueled his enlightenment, deepened his humanity, brought out his godliness. From my article: “The insights he had acquired from a lifetime of sorrow seemed to connect him to a higher power. As Joshua Shenk explains, over the course of his adulthood, Lincoln passed from fear to engagement to transcendence.”

    And, finally, from my article:

    “On assuming his second term of office, Lincoln spoke the finest words ever uttered in the English tongue:

    "’With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds.’

    “He had six weeks to live, his last days filled with a transcendent lightness of being. It was as if, his mission on earth accomplished, he were ready to be taken up into heaven. On April 14, 1865, a man with a gun obliged. Now he belonged to the ages.”
Published On: February 12, 2008