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When I consider the power of these little narratives, I’m reminded, on this Memorial Day weekend, of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, a speech he gave in 1863 to dedicate a portion of that battlefield as a cemetery for the Civil War dead. It begins: “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” The whole speech, from beginning to end, is only 272 words long. It took Lincoln barely two minutes to deliver. But what most people don’t know is that Lincoln wasn’t the only speaker that day. A man named Edward Everett, who was considered to be a great orator, came before Lincoln in the program and gave an address that lasted a full two hours. It contained over fourteen thousand words, and it began like this: “Standing beneath this serene sky, overlooking these broad fields now reposing from the labors of the waning year, the mighty Alleghanies dimly towering before us, the graves of our brethren beneath our feet. . . ” blah, blah, blah, etc., etc., etc. Now, let me ask you, which of those speeches is familiar to every one of us here, over a hundred years later? Lincoln’s, of course. Why? Because in just a few short sentences he captured the terrible significance of that occasion. It was not the actions of the living which would consecrate, or hallow, the ground, but the actions of those who had given their lives to defend it.

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