I stood transfixed in that Greek temple looking in awe at the Zeus-like figure sitting there with a slight bend over the back and a look which, in a way, tries to look through you and at the same time with an inherent kindness. I was standing there for a few minutes when a bunch of kids ran around the whole place making all sorts of noises. I was thinking 'he would've loved this'. Having a read a lot about his life and a lot of his speeches, I was sure that he loved children. But then I was distracted by his another 'inaugural address' on one side of the monument and started reading it. I know it already, but then it was a great speech with lots of passion. Then I started thinking over again. Why do I love this guy? What possibly attracts me to a 19th century politician in a completely foreign country?
I, for one, was never enamored by the country or its wealth. In fact, the first thing I noticed on that very cold first day when I walked to office 12 years back. in the streets of Omaha, Nebraska was a completely drunk Sioux Indian on the pavement. Then, I noticed them regularly on my way to office or when I go out for lunch, always drunk and evoking pity. I discussed it with some of my colleagues in office. I was either advised to mind my own or some sort of 'tut-tut'ing. Then when we drove to the unfinished, Crazy horse monument in the Black hills, I started to understand some part of the history of the region.
It was another day when I drove back from Philadelphia when I stopped at Gettysburg. It was full of greenery and it was hard to believe that it was the place of a great battle. I couldn't remember any of the details of the battle but was overwhelmed by the number of deaths the place has seen.
For all its loftiness of ideals and belief in 'manifest destiny', the country never did realize it till that tall man came through. He not only did manage to rouse the inner morality of human being, he had the perseverance to see it through the end and was able to pay it with his life. It was a simple tale that has been repeated with different people in different eras with almost the same tragic end.
What moves me in this tale is that it is a great lesson in humanity for us to realize that he did all this with a view to accommodate anyone who was willing to cross-over, even with not the purest of intentions. As he himself said, he lived 'with malice towards none' and it is an impossible ideal to live up to.
I often remind myself of this and try to think of my life in terms of these values and often I come short. On that day, when I stood on those steps looking up to his Zeus-like countenance, I also realized that it took another 100 years of relentless pursuing of the same ideals to achieve what he really wanted to achieve. On that same steps, 100 years after his death, stood another great man who talked about having a dream and died for the same cause.
Irrespective of the color of the skin or the language spoken or the country where one was born, his story tells me that there are some ideals that are common to humanity and it is worth one's while to fight for it and even die for it.
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