Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 9, 2010

Mother’s Day at Abe’s

I hadn’t seen Abe in a long time. I get to Washington pretty often, but I rarely have a chance to pay him a visit. I didn’t really have time today, but I made time. He’s the sort of guy you want to see every chance you get, because you always come away with something worthwhile.

Lincoln Memorial Brad Nixon 2536 (640x480)

It might seem like an odd place to go on Mother’s Day, but the first time I ever saw Abe, it was with Mom and Dad. They introduced me to Abe. This visit, I arrived at dusk. A bright sun was setting behind Abe’s place, illuminating the Mall and Washington’s monument, and the Capitol beyond; perfect, still, and beautiful, yet somber.

Lincoln Memorial view Brad Nixon 2534 (640x414)

What I remember about our first meeting, 54 years ago, was those eyes of his, looking out past Washington’s monument toward the Capitol. The Korean War had faded, though not officially ended; a place named Dien Bien Phu had been in the news not long before; and the Cold War was under way. Out there in the Capitol, a guy named McCarthy had been causing some genuine distress all across America, and in just a year or so, I’d start getting accustomed to atomic bomb drills at school. But then, as again on my visit today, although those eyes looked somber and concerned, they had seen worse, much worse. There’s also something reassuring and hopeful in that gaze: wisdom? insight? empathy? We get it all from Abe.

Lincoln Memorial Brad Nixon 2537 (640x480)

And what really struck me on that visit as I looked up, ‘way up at him from my 5 year-old perspective, were the hands — huge, powerful: one grasping the arm of his chair and the other one partially clenched — emblematic of strength and control, but also ready to take action.

Yes, this was a good time to go see where that gaze was directed now as he leans slightly forward from his chair, watching, and whether those hands still conveyed confidence and strength.

Lincoln Memorial Brad Nixon 2547 (640x480)

The thing about visiting Abe is that he won’t say anything directly. He’s already said all he’s going to say. Some of the things he said are engraved on the walls of his place. To his right, the Gettysburg Address. To his left, his second inaugural address, one of the most concise and moving expressions of humanity in our language. You can read, and you can listen, while Abe sits there. You pick up a lot, just being in that awesome presence.

“Hello, Mr. Lincoln,” I said this evening. “It’s good to see you again. I was here in ’56 with my mom and dad and my brother, and I’ve been back a few times since then. You know, we also went later to see your log house in Illinois, and your place in Springfield. I’ve never made it to Gettysburg, but I hope I get there some day. We all admire what you said there that day,” I said, nodding over to The Address: “‘Of the people, by the people, for the people.’

“I know they were dire times when you were president, and you had a lot of antagonism and grief from the people who didn’t agree with you. I realize it’s pretty much always like that for presidents, but you had it as tough as it gets: the Republic split into pieces and two-thirds of a million soldiers dead, not counting civilian casualties. I hope that everyone understands that you’re sitting here now to remind us that leadership isn’t about easy choices, and that we all have to do the difficult things, too. As my mom would’ve said, we all have to pitch in.

“You know, my mom had a lot in common with what you said up there at Gettysburg, because she always focused on doing things for people. She was a nurse, and she worked in public health and in education. She’d get furious with things that hurt people or that got in the way of helping people be healthier and smarter and safer, just as when you said, ‘It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just god’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces.’

“She was the daughter of immigrants, like almost all of us are sons and daughters of immigrants: people who came here because you and millions of other Americans before us built a nation where we could work for the good of everyone. That’s what she believed in, too.

“You did a hell of a thing, Mr. Lincoln. Mom’s not here now, but she stood for what you stood for, and I’m glad to know you’ll be here when I’m gone, too. Keep ’em focused on helping one another after we move on, will you? There’ll be a 5 year-old kid here with his mom in another hundred years and you can remind them: ‘Of the people, by the people, for the people.’ You keep an eye on the Capitol and keep those big hands ready.

Lincoln Memorial Brad Nixon 2546 (640x480)

“Happy Mother’s Day, Mr. Lincoln. Thanks for introducing us, Mom.”

© Brad Nixon 2010, 2017



  1. A nice article Brad, thank you.

    Thanks to the Internet I became re-acquainted with Mr. Lincon’s address.


  2. Great article, Brad. Your insightful comment about Lincoln’s hands caused me to reflect on the artist who designed that statute, American sculptor Daniel Chester French. Credit must surely be given there, to preserve for us a living Lincoln who continues to inspire.

    An artist has many choices in play when representing a subject, especially a monumental sculpture: figure standing (Jefferson in his memorial); standing and pointing to the distance (JFK portraits); seated with chin on fist, head lowered (Rodin’s The Thinker). One can go on and on. Here, we have a Lincoln that is not gestural, with head neither raised nor lowered, looking staight ahead. A solid, figure of strength in a time of war, chaos, great uncertainty . . . for eternity. The artist did a superb job of capturing Lincoln for us to contemplate and remember.


  3. Nicely done – one of my favorites you have put up here – I really like the Proust Blogs and this one too now. Oh, okay, I like them all, but those best.


  4. Well done, bro. Thanks.


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