By now many of you have seen the excellent movie, Lincoln. While the movie only covers the last few months of Lincoln’s life, Daniel Day-Lewis’ thoughtful portrait of Abraham Lincoln gives a glimpse of how his political strengths were rooted in his most personal struggles.
I recommend Joshua Wolf Shenk’s book, Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness, because it gives insight into Abraham Lincoln as a man who suffered greatly because of his depression. We know Lincoln as the emancipator of slaves and as the man who held our country together in its darkest hour. But few of us know the full extent of his depression, his suicidal ideations and how he lived with a tortured mind.
Yet it was Lincoln’s creative use of his personal suffering, his perseverance, his sense of humor, his desire to help others, and his friends who stood by him in his emotional pain to remind him that he was not alone, that allowed him to achieve greatness. He was also a man of religious faith and Shenk’s book shares how these beliefs allowed Lincoln to use his faith as a source of comfort and hope.
People often think that those of us who live with a chronic mental illness are unable to function. Lincoln modeled one way to live in that tension between accepting and living with his illness while losing himself in service to others. Lincoln’s dedication to his work kept him going even though he felt he was a personal failure. By holding together his emotional turmoil and his dedication to his work for others, he was also able to hold together a hurting country. Shenk writes, “The hope is not that the suffering will go away, for with Lincoln it did not go away. The hope is that suffering, acknowledged and endured, can fit us for the surprising challenges that await.”
Sometimes circumstances in life can feel overwhelming. I hope we can begin the New Year remembering Lincoln’s words, “The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.”