Lincoln’s Gray Eyes

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colorized_lincoln_photo_cropAbraham Lincoln’s dark gray eyes gazed solemnly over the Petersburg battlefield. Only days before he heard the muffled cannons in the distance as he sat pensively on the River Queen docked at City Point. His meeting with Grant had gone well, he thought, but the suffering was beyond unbearable. His eyes begged for it end soon.

And then what? Lincoln hadn’t had time to read this new idea by English recluse and scientist, Charles Darwin, but his good friend Joseph Henry had given him a summary. Darwin and he were born on the exact same day, Lincoln remembered, and though Darwin’s privileged life was considerably different than his own meager upbringing, they both had had dramatic impacts on how the world viewed these men, women, and children derived from Africa.

Ah, that Joseph Henry. Long a friend of Jefferson Davis in the pre-war days, as first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Henry had carried on a lengthy correspondence with famed Harvard botanist Asa Gray, Darwin’s main proponent in the states. Lincoln didn’t quite understand this “natural selection,” as Henry explained it, but he had come to understand his own evolution on the “race question.” “All men are created equal,” he repeated often, just as the Founders has stated in the Declaration of Independence.

Lincoln’s own views had evolved, it’s true, but he had always been convinced that all men, while perhaps not all equal in every way, had a right to expect equal treatment and equal opportunity to better their own condition.

Looking out over the bodies of those who had given the ultimate sacrifice, it was hard to see how anyone’s condition had been bettered in this awful conflict.

Lincoln’s eyes became a little more gray.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is due out late July 2017.

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The Opaque Window

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opaque window 1You can see right through most people. But this woman was opaque. Not literally opaque, of course, but opaque still the same.

The man in the corner is a writer. I don’t know that for sure, but he is always staring pensively at his propped up iPad, tapping here and there as if to edit some massive tome he’s been working on for years.

The woman to the side is frantically scrolling through her smartphone, deep in “conversation” with one or more of her distant friends.

A gentleman of uncertain age racks his brain over a newspaper crossword puzzle, his demeanor that of a long-retired Navy man passing the time of day. A parade of admirers stops to pay their respects as he holds court in succession. Invariably, the puzzle is never finished.

All reveal themselves in their actions, movements, expressions…windows into their worlds.

But not her.

She stood unmoving. Not simply motionless, but seemingly immobile. No expression, no impatience, no sadness, no joy, no apparent connection to the outside world. Distant. What was running through her mind? Was she contemplating a family tragedy, an upcoming exam, cheating on her husband? Was she in deep thought about the state of the world or her existence, or potential non-existence, in it? Perhaps she was autistic, a savant whose world extended no further than her own skin? Or weighted down with the terrors of tragedy? Or maybe, just maybe, she was writing the next “Great American Novel!” in her head?

Most people are transparent. You can read them like a book. They give off clues to their general well-being, their attitude toward life, their loves and loathes. Windows into their inner beings.

This woman’s window was opague.

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, due out in late July 2017. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

 

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My Life Unraveled

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ropeIce formed on my eyebrows as I leaned over the railing. Staring out at the Statue of Liberty didn’t help much. “What is Liberty, anyway? The freedom to tear a man’s heart out?”

Sure, I told myself, be melodramatic. That ought to fix it. At this point I didn’t care. It’s not like I even know the woman; damn Tom for connecting us online. I never would have agreed to this blind date thing if Tom hadn’t been there when I needed a friend most; when my life was unraveling.

Sigh. Who has a first date on the ferry out to the Liberty Island anyway? This whole thing is starting to sound silly now that I think about it. Okay, maybe I’m rationalizing, but really, a ferry boat? I chuckled at the thought, even though right now what I wanted most was to leap over the railing and end my misery.

Another New Year’s Eve. I had spent the last few New Year’s eves alone, sometimes by choice, sometimes not. Okay, always not. I was actually starting to climb out of the annual doldrums this year, what with the big pay raise at work and all. But now this. This wasn’t going to help.

Stop. I am not doing this to myself again. Positive thinking, man. You know, that whole Norman Vincent Peale stuff. Go for it. Screw the girl who was standing you up. Just find someone else – anyone else – that looks in need of some warmth on this frigid ferry. Yeah, that’s it; go for it.

I had almost talked myself through this situation when a conspiratorial December gust blew a hat smack into my face. “What the h….?”

[to be continued]

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is due out late July 2017.

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Midnight on the Cusp of Spring

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spring nightSpring came early this year; spring is coming late this year. The cusp of spring arrived, then departed, then arrived, and again departed; only to arrive once more. Perhaps for good this time.

Officially, of course, spring comes only once a year on its equinox – March 20th in the northern hemisphere (which equates with the autumn equinox in the southern hemisphere). Equinox is the technical term for when the Earth’s equator [all these “equi” words derive from the same roots as “equal”] passes through the center of the Sun. On these days, spring and autumn, the hours of daylight and darkness are about equal.

All this is nice, but in reality we measure “spring” in many ways. Meteorological spring, for example, started on March 1st this year. The first crocuses and daffodils may signal spring where you are, while the annual cherry blossom festival in Washington DC begs us to put on the t-shirts and shorts.

This year spring arrived in February. Temperatures zoomed into the high 70s (Fahrenheit), even toppling over in the 80s a few times. Snow was non-existent. Sun was abundant. Spring had arrived before winter had a chance to strut its stuff. But then mid-March, when the equinox sought to reveal the wonders of spring, winter arrived with a vengeance. Snow, cold, wind. Not very spring-like, I assure you. This pattern of unnaturally warm and exceedingly cold had shown itself several times during the “winter,” but this reordering of months was most noticeable right when we were trying to decide to flip wardrobes. January was clearly March, February was May or June, March was January, April is starting off as March. Hopefully by June we’ll have June.

It is midnight on the cusp of spring.

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, due out in late July 2017. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

 

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Travel – The Elixir of Life

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Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…

DSC04169-1024x768Mark Twain wrote the above in The Innocents Abroad, a travel book published in 1869 detailing his excursion by boat to Europe and the Holy Land.

Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder a part of experience.

That one is by Francis Bacon.

My traveling started late. Too poor, too introverted, and too anxious to do the traditional year of “backpacking around Europe” between high school and college (which, to be honest, is really only done by rich white kids anyway), I found my traveling legs only after securing meaningful employment. Which, of course, restricts the number of days off for traveling. Eventually I did get to travel, with my first excursion like Mark Twain’s, albeit in the opposite direction – I went to Asia. The culture shock was good for me, opening my eyes to the vast differences, and equally vast similarities, between my monochromatic upbringing and my new world view.

Another quote attributed to Mark Twain is:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

I concur. I’ve had some opportunities I’ve passed up, including watching the annual 4th of July fireworks from the World Trade Center towers many years ago; that opportunity is gone forever. I’ve visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and felt too rushed to wait in line to climb the tower itself; chances are I’ll never be back. I regret not doing those things. But I can’t recall too many things I did that I regret. They didn’t always work out well, but the experience is a memory for life.

Such is the elixir of life. Travel. Climb the tower. Drive the gravel roads, and the curvy roads, and the non-roads. See the world, and live the life.

When not traveling, David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is due out late July 2017.

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The Minimalist

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birds on a wireThe time seemed right. The divorce, the move, the unemployment. All convinced me to start a new, more minimalist, life. Or maybe I was just rationalizing. Either way, it was time to reduce the stuff.

We all have stuff. Perhaps in compliance with the laws of entropy, items entering the home tend to stay there. The antique chair passed to me as my parents’ down-sized their own home. Their books. Their knicknacks, their tchotchkes, their gewgaws. Their dust. No wonder I have so much stuff.

I’ve donated hundreds, even thousands, of books to the local libraries, sold some on eBay and Amazon, given the technical ones to colleagues. Still, thousands remain. The statuettes and art pieces I collected on travels – until I realized how cluttered my home had become – stopped coming in, but somehow never leave either.

Wall hangings remain hung on the floor waiting for a wall to pull them into place. Papers fill boxes in the garage, in stacks on floors, in cabinets filed to the brim. The couches (how many does one house need?) collect dust (and books) more than are impressed with lazing bodies. Two televisions dominate rooms, though neither is hooked to broadcast service.

I am the minimalist. Or at least I aspire to be.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is due out late July 2017.

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