During a Veterans’ commemoration ceremony at my daughter’s school, I sat amongst veterans, parents, teachers, students, school staff and others that attentively listened to the principal recite The Gettysburg Address.
I found myself “hanging” onto every word. While I had read this speech before, I was struck by the last part of the address:
“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”
I found myself contemplating on the universality and currency of this address. A speech delivered over a hundred years ago not only reminds us that others before us have made great sacrifices so that we might enjoy the freedoms we hold so sacred today, but also reminds us that we have a responsibility to be “dedicated to the great task remaining before us.”
Reflecting upon what the “dedication to the great task remaining before us” might mean for me, I am reminded that we might be at different stages of realizing that indeed, ahead of us lays a “great task.” A task to continue the work others before us began, a task to pass on the baton handed over to us and perhaps a task to be birthed. I imagine that the “great task remaining before us” is not only limited to defending our personal collective liberties but might be applied within the realm of our everyday lives through how we choose to participate in our families, organizations, communities, nations and the global society.
While we might identify with women, men and children, dead or alive that have started tasks we pursue as part of our “great task,” in some cases we could well be the originators of a “great task” that others might be inspired to continue. Some of the “great tasks” we see unfold in real time might be from far and unfamiliar places. I am reminded of all the voices, cries, bloodshed and lives lost in the struggle for freedom and personal liberties in North Africa, the Middle East and many other parts of the world. I am reminded of the many individuals that everyday courageously take on and pass on a baton, pave a path or lay a foundation so that today and tomorrow might be a better day for millions of people.
I am also reminded of people in nations where overt expressions of public courage or outcry for personal liberties they so much desire are not evident because their voices have been suppressed, drowned or silenced by a few that for their own selfish gains use power in ways that dehumanize and prevent others from enjoying the freedoms they deserve and have a right to protect. Who today is giving them a Gettysburg Address?
In our quest to identify whatever that “great task” is for us, let us remember that we indeed have the power within ourselves to make a positive change in our lives and those of others. Power that some before us so unselfishly exercised through service. A call to service that not only helps us achieve personal and collective goals but honors the lives lost by those before so that we might be of service. A call to service that transforms personal power and that bestowed upon us by others into stewardship anchored in honoring the human spirit so that on the local and global context, we might collectively participate in more meaningful ways.
In honor of those dead or alive, known or unknown, uniformed or uninformed that have answered a call to service with a commitment to improving the human condition, we stand challenged to embrace “the great task remaining before us.”