Worth it If he doesn't remember?


In November of 2013, I took my dad to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, as a birthday present to him. It was the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. Dad had never been to Gettysburg. He did have the Address somewhat memorized from childhood, and was excited to spend a long weekend with his daughter (at least, that's what he told me). I invited my older brother along, and the three of us met up in Chicago. We flew to Washington DC, then rented a car, and drove to Gettysburg.

Smartly, we didn't go on the weekend of the 150th anniversary, choosing to go the week after: fewer people, less crowding. Go us.

Far above our poor power to add or detract


As mentioned, I'm memorizing the Gettysburg Address. This should be unsurpising to anyone who knows me or has listened to my reciting Jabberwocky when testing a microphone set up before giving a technical talk.

Lots of kids memorize the Gettysburg Address in high school, usually with little understanding the power of the words. The words are incredibly important to me. I have chills every time I read the Address out loud, even though I've recited it a hundred times so far while memorizing it.

I initially struggled with some of the nuances of Lincoln's speech patterns. He has repetitions of some words ("that," "here," "great") that make memorizing both easier and harder. One pattern that trips me just about every time is in the line

The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

I consistently want to say "far beyond our poor power to add or detract." It's a small change, one word, but using "beyond" instead of "above" means I'm not memorizing the correct words. Which bugs me.

"Above" versus "beyond." A small difference.

That choice of word I believe reflects a difference between Lincoln's world and mine.

In particular, air and space travel.

In Lincoln's time, up meant the stars and the moon and the clouds. Up was where only birds could go. Above means heaven, and goodness.

In our time, we have planes and cloud research and space travel and satellites.

While we haven't conquered "above," it holds less mystery than it did 150 years ago. Now we need to go beyond instead of above. Beyond the trees. Beyond the mountain tops. Beyond the atmosphere. Beyond the moon. Beyond the solar system.

Heh. Or maybe to infinity and beyond.

Memorize this.


I giggled when Jonathan sent me this photo. It's from a small town pizza joint that understands community. It encourages local students to hang out at the store and study, enjoying discounted food during study hours. It's really quite brilliant.

The community challenge: "Recite from memory Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address to earn 1 large pizza of your choosing."

I'd do pretty well in that challenge, as I have been memorizing the Gettysburg Address. I'm hoping to take my Dad to the Lincoln Memorial and Gettysburg later this year, for a father / daughter bonding trip.

Just as the road trip with Chris, politics are verboten. Completely. Forbidden. I want to enjoy the trip.

There are five slightly varied versions of the Gettysburg Address. This is the one I'm memorizing:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—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, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.