Living in the Land of Lincoln

On the northern edge of Buffalo there's an imposing marble building perched atop a grassy hill; a hill that slopes gently down to a small lake ringed with trees. It's a beautiful spot, quiet and drenched in history, and I often find myself there on that specific sort of sunny day when you have a lot of thinking to do. The building houses our local historical society, but it was built as a pavilion for the Pan American Exposition of 1901 by an architect who clearly looked to the Parthenon for inspiration. The gardens and lake are part of an extensive city-wide park system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, and President McKinley was assassinated while attending the Exposition only yards (and a hundred years or so) from where I stand. On the steps leading up to the portico sits a bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln. He is portrayed at rest, legs crossed, a leathery portfolio of legal papers in his lap. His expression is thoughtful, and his gaze looks down over the lake, past the Japanese Garden and the interstate to the city beyond. The statue is life-sized, and, apart from the color, very realistic. I always half expect him to turn his head and start talking to me. There's a sort of "when worlds collide" feeling to the spot, filled as it is with the contradictions and overlaps of history. It's secluded and serene, yet the low hum of city traffic is never completely absent. The neoclassical facade, itself homage to a still earlier time, can't quite block the overpasses and guardrails and traffic lights from my view. This spot always helps me recognize the repetitive, cyclical nature of life, and what I like best is the reminder that we're surrounded by history, our own, our family's, our nation's. Countless dozens of generations before us have dealt with the same struggles and catastrophes and triumphs and desires and joys and losses and victories as we have, and countless dozens more will follow in our footsteps. I think it's critical that we study history in order to understand how those who came before us solved their problems, or, if they couldn't, why not? Lincoln struggled with a nation fractured to a degree we can only imagine, and yet somehow it eventually worked out ok. Seeing his face, calm, serious yes, but unlined by worry or fear, gives me hope that we'll figure out a way to do the same.

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