In the lap of Lincoln

He was there every day, sitting facing the lake I loved, a tranquil water that mirrored the peacefulness of his craggy brow and farseeing eyes. I was able to climb up into his lap and sit there looking speechlessly onto the water where usually two swans moved mutely.

I had originally been brought here by relatives when I was just able to walk, but with my terrier Teddy I was able in later years to make the journey alone. The lake and the trees rubbed shoulders in a family fashion and were family to me. When things were stirred up at home I'd run across the street and take refuge in this park, my park, where I could talk to the trees of my troubles. The willows would weep with me and the birches carve messages in Indian language on their bark.

There was a flock of sheep that roamed the meadows, a wartime replacement for men and mowers. And squirrels of a friendly persuasion abounded. Teddy, with doggy grin and wildly wagging tail, chased after them, knowing full well he would never harm a bushy hair. My pockets were always host to peanuts and sticky popcorn, inedible to humans since the fuzzy lining of my pocket coated the treats. Sometimes when I sat on a rock the squirrels who knew me would note that Teddy was far off chasing windmills of his own, and they would come down carefully to investigate my pockets. Triumphantly they'd skim across the grass, up a tree, to munch on my fuzzy nuts. Perhaps the fuzz lent an added taste.

At last I'd make my way down to the lake and there would be that bronze immovableness, Abraham Lincoln sitting throughout time and beyond it. The statue was bigger than life, as the man had been. And when the sun shone brightly his smooth lap became warm. He asked no foolish adult questions and I ventured no answers. We were mutual. Lincoln knew how to handle troubles, child-size and broad as a country. I'm not sure in those early days that I knew the lap belonged to a president of these United States. Would one have to know it to love him? I went to him for comfort and got it.

Today in my upstairs study there are seven gray volumes that contain the known words of Abraham Lincoln, written and spoken, including letters to his generals about the conduct of campaigns and to Mrs. Lincoln about the well-being of young Tad Lincoln's pet goats. There is also a letter in which he said:

''How to better the condition of the colored race has long been a study which has attracted my serious and careful attention; hence I think I am clear and decided as to what course I shall pursue in the premises, regarding it a religious duty, as the nation's guardian of these people, who have so heroically vindicated their manhood on the battle-field, where, in assisting to save the life of the Republic, they have demonstrated in blood their right to the ballot, which is but the humane protection of the flag they have so fearlessly defended.''

That love was returned by the blacks, and one evidence of this was the presentation to Lincoln of a beautiful Bible with these words, ''. . . when our children shall ask what mean these tokens, they will be told of your worthy deeds, and will rise up and call you blessed.''

His reply might have stirred up comment in some circles today, but his words give the measure of the man.

''I have done all I could for the good of mankind generally . . . . In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Saviour gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong.''

Sometimes when challenges today seem particularly great, I walk these New Hampshire woods several states away from my childhood park, and the resident dog who resembles Teddy scampers ahead of me, inevitably chasing squirrels. I note the Indian messages carved on the birches, and as in earlier days I head for the lake at the end of our country road. It is less civilized than the lake I knew as a child; rough cliffs rise up from its banks where it is said an Indian chief jumped into the lake on the back of his white horse. The stillness is primeval, and Indians could walk here silently. Their birchbark canoes could easily slip through these waters. This is my place for being rather than thinking or composing. Here is the peace primevally mine; here are no solutions because no problems.

I have what I had as a child, the trees, the lake, the peace. There may be no warm bronze lap to climb into, but I have the essence of it.

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