Sunday, October 20, 2013

Back to Lincoln's haunts

Nearly 100 years ago, Springfield, Ill. poet Vachel Lindsay penned a poem, “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight.” In 32 lines of verse, the poet spoke of the President stirred from his grave, walking the streets of the city he called home for more than half of his life, restless even in death because of unrest in the world. 

The central Illinois poet was troubled himself by the discord in the world in 1914. World War I had begun.

Lindsay’s poem is powerful, but many of us who frequent Springfield know that it wasn’t just on a night a century ago that Lincoln’s spirit walked the streets of the capital city. 

Those of us who spend much time there, who study the 16th President, his life and his legacy, know that, ghost-like being or not, the aura of Abraham Lincoln lives on in the town to which and the home of the people to whom he said he owed everything. 

In the rooms of the Old State Capitol or the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office,  in his home and along the streets he walked, if you stop, close your eyes for a second and open yourself to the possibility, it’s not at all hard to see this tall, lanky prairie lawyer in the city he called home. 

Because I live in mid-Missouri now, instead of an hour from Springfield, as I did for more than a decade, I don’t get to return to Lincoln’s adopted hometown as often as I once did. On Oct. 18, I returned for an opportunity of which I’ve dreamed for nearly two decades. I visited Springfield to speak about Abraham Lincoln. 

The occasion was the national conference of an organization in which I found tremendous value and through which I met vibrant leaders, encouraging mentors and brilliant communicators, when I was a member early in my corporate career—the Association for Women in Communications (AWC). The Springfield chapter of the organization served as host of the event, which has been held in a number of large communities across the nation through the years. 

One of my bucket list items was to speak on the national level sometime, somewhere. Another was to deliver a speech about Abraham Lincoln.  

I’d fulfilled the second of these wishes on a small scale on a number of occasions when I lived in the Bloomington-Normal area. I’ll bet if you asked them, you’d be surprised at the number of Sunrise Speakers Toastmasters members who could tell you that I opened their eyes a number of times at our 7 a.m. meetings with information that inspired them to learn more about Abraham Lincoln. As I shared my lifelong passion for his story, I guess I whetted their interest in him a little, too. If so, I did what I hoped. 

But, I’d never spoken about Lincoln in Springfield, the city where his legacy lives and inspires every single day.

On Friday afternoon, nearly 100 professional communicators gathered to hear “What Communicators Can Learn from Abraham Lincoln.” As I’ve studied Lincoln, I’ve noticed a number of similarities between things he did in his life and things communicators do in theirs. I believe there are 10 lessons that we can take from his life and example that can help us in our own social media efforts, our careers and our lives. 

I won’t share them all here today, but will give you a hint. For the last few minutes, you’ve been practicing one of them. To be like Lincoln, read. Read every day – and share what you read. Share it in a conversation over lunch or dinner, in a blog post or on Facebook, in a tweet.

This weekend, more than 100 women from across the nation gathered in Springfield to hear speakers, ranging from a Paralympic champion to this communicator who is more than a little bit nutty over a President from the Prairie State. I’d like to think they left with a bit more enthusiasm and knowledge about Lincoln than they had when they came. I do know they left inspired by the example, enthusiasm and nurturing of this dynamic group of women – and thankful to the efforts of the Springfield Chapter who showed them why the community and its people meant so much to the development of the president whose legacy is honored there.

Yes, Lincoln does still walk in Springfield – and not just in the light of the moon. 

You'll also find a version of this post on my eclectic blog, "Musings on Route 66." 

Would you like for me to show members of your organization what they can learn from Lincoln? Now accepting speaking engagements for professional conferences in 2014. Please send me email at lincolnbuff2 [at] yahoo [dot] com for more information. 

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