In this Valentine's week filled with Lord Byron and Barry White, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Hallmark, I offer up a confection-free taste of love at its purest and most vulnerable. It seems before Abraham Lincoln offered up one of the most memorable and eloquent speeches in human history, he was a simple man in love who dared to pour out his heart in a letter:
My dear Mary:
You must know that I cannot see you or think of you with entire indifference; and yet it may be that you are mistaken in regard to what my real feelings toward you are. If I knew that you were not, I should not trouble you with this letter. Perhaps any other man would know enough without further information, but I consider it my peculiar right to plead ignorance and your bounden duty to allow the plea. I want in all cases to do right, and most particularly so in all cases with women. I want at this particular time more than anything else to do right with you, and if I knew it would be doing right, as I rather suspect it would, to let you alone, I would do it. And for the purpose of making the matter as plainly as possible I now say you can drop the subject, dismiss your thoughts--if you ever had any--from me forever, and leave this letter unanswered without calling forth one accusing murmur from me. And I will even go further and say that if it will add anything to your comfort and peace of mind to do so, it is my sincere wish that you should.
Do not understand by this that I wish to cut your acquaintance. I mean no such thing. What I do wish is that our further acquaintance should depend upon yourself. If such further acquaintance would contribute nothing to your happiness, I am sure it would not to mine. If you feel yourself in any degree bound to me, I am now willing to release you, provided you wish it; while, on the other hand, I am willing and even anxious to bind you faster, if I can be convinced that it will in any degree add to your happiness. This indeed is the whole question with me. Nothing would make me more miserable than to believe you miserable; nothing more happy than to know you were so.
In what I have now said I cannot be misunderstood; and to make myself understood is the only object of this letter. If it suits you best not to answer this, farewell. A long life and a merry one attend you. But if you conclude to write back, speak as plainly as I do. There can be neither harm nor danger in saying to me anything you think just in the manner you think it.
At first read, the lines seem to come from a measurable distance, almost political. But to realize, in the privacy of his most intimate thoughts, never meant for public consumption, this revolutionary man could pour out his raw honesty and lay every stake in his future at the hands of the woman he loved is worthy of the greatest truth of this human condition. No matter how we try to capture love's essence, it's still not enough.
Happy Valentines Day!
Late in his life, Abraham Lincoln foretold Mary of his death. Read one of my first blog entries for the story.