President Barack Obama isn't the only 40-something Abraham Lincoln admirer in Washington, D.C. We each love his way with words and his prairie populist provenance, but let's just say the 16th president is my historical boyfriend. Let me explain how this crush is blooming like a cherry blossom.
In his bicentennial year, Lincoln haunts the air here: in book shops, art galleries, concerts, even the blue wool overcoat he wore to Ford's Theatre on the fatal night in 1865. On the lighter side, late-night comedian Conan O'Brien came to praise him as a humorist. It's all going to my head. Smelling salts, please.
I also went to a dramatization of the Lincoln-Douglas debates about slavery at Ford's: my idea of a good time. When I heard Bruce Springsteen rock the Inaugural concert back in January, the marble Lincoln Memorial itself was what actually made me misty. And the recent discovery of a secret message in his watch brought him back for a fleeting moment.
Lincoln's on my heart and mind. I wonder about the sound of his voice -- one thing we'll never know. The gray-blue eyes, yes, but not his voice. And he walks with me through our troubled times. The man knows how to handle trouble.
I often imagine the rainy morning scene of Lincoln's leaving Springfield, Illinois for Washington in 1861, forever. The farewell speech to townspeople, engraved on the wall by his statue in the National Cathedral, are among the saddest words he ever spoke. He wept; so did listeners as he thanked them for "all that I am."
I replay his White House handshake with Frederick Douglass (who almost got thrown out of the second Inaugural party) when he asked the abolitionist orator what he thought of his address. He added how much he valued a good word from Douglass.
It's hard to find time alone in my love for Lincoln, with all the competition.
Team of Rivals bestselling author Doris Kearns Goodwin, you are not really a rival; Lincoln loves you like a sister.
Poet Walt Whitman, you worshiped Lincoln when you both inhabited wartime Washington. The "Lilacs" and "Captain" elegies you composed for him sing to this day, but he just wasn't that into you as the great American bard. The man was too busy running a war. The president knew the other Bard's tragedies very well, and fittingly his favorite was the Scottish play, MacBeth, the tale of a good king's bloody murder.
As for Mary Lincoln, we give each other our space. This difficult first lady got a bad rap from Lincoln's biographers. Our rough-hewn railroad lawyer might not have made it as far without her. He married up in the match with the former Miss Todd, who knew about poetry, politics and polished entertaining. As a bright young thing, she was also courted by his smooth-talking rival, Stephen Douglas, and the republic might be another country had she married him instead.
Geography also plays a part. As a Wisconsin girl, Lincoln loomed large; I vividly remember visiting his large corner house in Springfield. Lincoln was the first president born outside the original thirteen states, suggesting it took an outsider from the "West" to settle the seething North-South sectional divide.
The dry wit and storytelling he was known for sprang from his prairie roots; all the land was once an empty stage for a story or laugh.
Then there's Lincoln's mastery over deep suffering. He had two suicidal breakdowns as a young man and later buried two sons, not to mention the loss of his mother as a boy. When in a blue mood, he can be consoling company.
On his last day, April 14, Lincoln told Mary on a carriage ride they must try to be happy, since the war was over at last. That spring night spelled the tragic end of him in a theater. Actor John Wilkes Booth took his life by shooting him in the back of the head. Booth leapt to the stage to dash for his horse and made a three-day escape into rural Maryland and Virginia. He was not captured alive, but several co-conspirators were convicted and hanged. There to see a comedy, a thousand theatergoers witnessed a political act of Shakespearean proportions.
Doctors keeping watch on Lincoln's deathbed into an April dawn said his strong body looked oddly younger than his face and his 56 years. Sevenscore and four years ago, he drew his last breath and left a broken-hearted world behind.
So my historical boyfriend is a much older married man whose grand life was brutally snuffed out the same year my great-grandfather was born. Yet he'll always belong to the ages, so they say -- and to me.