April 15, 2016
To Abe, with love.
One hundred and fifty one years ago today, Abraham Lincoln died in the boarding house across the street from Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC.
He’d had a big month. He visited newly-captured Richmond on April 4th. On the 9th, Confederate General R.E. Lee surrendered to Union General U.S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia. Lincoln and his colleagues were on the verge of moving forward with his plans for national forgiveness, amnesty, and reconstruction (but a very different kind of reconstruction from what we ended up with). He took a well-deserved break on the 14th, went to see a play with Mary, and had his life and all those plans snuffed out. Yet another brutal tragedy to haunt America.
During my manic and hypomanic times, I spent a lot of time with ghosts. A lot of time. Ghosts were more real to me than living people. I wanted to help them, to ease their pain and the pain of the past. I spent an inordinate amount of time visiting battlefields, plantations, Richmond, Jamestown: feeling the old grief of the places and people. Since I live in Virginia, indigenous genocide and slavery and civil war – the original sins of America – were front and center. I wouldn’t say that I was obsessed; rather, I was on a quest. A healing quest.
I was also often quite manic – wild and incomprehensible, sometimes delusional, blithely putting myself in dangerous situations without noticing. Can you see the confusing split here? The odd fusion of paradox inherent in my experience of manic depression?
Mania was ultimately deeply destructive to me and to others. But it was good to seek to heal the world. Very good. Reclaiming that desire to do right, to help, to surface the horror in our history so we can heal – that has been key to my recovery. Difficult too, to forgive myself for going crazy and to believe that there was something of value in my extreme and often bizarre experiences.
Forgiveness, amnesty, reconstruction – of self – in order to heal the world, or at least help one another get well.
Here’s a little snipplet about President Lincoln from Hear All The Bells, from a time when I was on an upward climb toward full-blown mania.
“I have more lobbying to do, this time in D.C. My mother goes with me, partly to keep an eye on me, partly to help out. She likes to support our work and makes a fantastic, powerful citizen lobbyist. We finish on Capitol Hill in the afternoon then make a quick side trip. I tell her that I’ve done enough research into the Confederate side of history for a while. I need to spend time with the Union; I need to visit Abraham Lincoln. So we go to Ford’s Theater. She explores the museum cases displaying Lincoln’s blood stained coat and John Wilkes Booth’s derringer, and I slip into the theater. The space is dusky and unlit, rows of empty seats curving up to the stage. Red, white, and blue bunting marks the Presidential Box where Booth shot Lincoln. I sit in the back row for a long time, considering the space and the tragedy and its implications. Before I leave, I stand and sing, pitching my voice toward the President’s box, a line from Spoon River, the song Adam played for me at a fateful campfire two years ago: ‘The Union’s preserved, if you listen, you’ll hear all the bells!’ I want to kneel and pray, but instead I start to cry and leave the theater, my head suddenly aching; the cracks in my heart are brutal and endless.”
Excerpt from Hear All The Bells by Christina Wulf, (c) 2016.
One thought on “The Union’s Preserved”
Christina, I so look forward to your book after reading this beautiful first look, which is warmly coherent, steadfastly honest, and so cleanly written. From this, I already know that I will learn terrible truths from your book in a way that will take any of my own suffering by the hand and lead me to light. That’s why we ultimately share journeys through pain: to understand that we are not alone, that others have succeeded in breaking through, and that making beautiful art from what we believed was the worst part of us is the biggest surprise of all. I’m delighted you find yourself here at last and glad we have a place by the fire.