Don’t let words get in the way of a good story. Make each one of them say something.
July 10, 2013
Two score and six years ago we borrowed a high-mileage, low-dependability, hard-driven, oft-dinged, midnight black, four-door Chevrolet and spit ‘n’ sputtered our way for five score and five minutes – give or take — from Washington, D.C, to Gettysburg, Pa., a distance of four score, four miles.
Wanted to see the place of Honest Abe’s four score, seven address.
The Gettysburg Address we learned in grade school.
Words that remain emblazoned in the mind’s eye, though, with passage of time and too many scores of passing years, we admittedly have had to refresh our memory of some of what we committed so vividly to rote as a youngster
Wanted to see, feel the place where so many sacrificed so much
Wanted to experience the place of Abe’s words.
Abe’s words that have captivated generations, held strong, been indelibly implanted in the hearts and minds and souls of fellow countrymen and women.
And, of course, been locked in the memory of score upon score of school children.
In these initial days of July, 2013, hundreds of thousands have been making their way to Gettysburg to commemorate what took place there, some to re-enact the battles there
All there, in various ways, to mark the Battle of Gettysburg of 150 years ago.
Seven score, ten years ago.
President Lincoln went there in November of that year – 1863 — to dedicate Gettysburg’s Soldiers’ National Cemetery.
To make his speech of a remarkably limited number of words.
But minimal words of infinite, precise, dynamic impact.
And, o’ so profoundly enduring.
Words instantly recognizable.
Oft repeated, recited.
I wanted to see, feel the place where so many sacrificed so much for so long.
And to be reminded that Abe got it wrong – though his understandable misjudgment was to his creative credit — in one part of his speech, that part in which he said:
“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here . . .”
Of course the world remembers.
That is part of what drew me to hit the road on that Indian summer Sunday and make my way there in that beat-up, borrowed Chevy.
I wanted to see, as best I could, what he saw.
Feel, as best I could, what he felt.
And understand, as best I could, how he could capture the full meaning of it in such magnitude and with such precision and such accuracy and do it in some mere fourteen score – give or take — words.
Lest we forget – and we mostly have — another speech was made there that day.
Droned on for some 13,000 words.
That’s 650 score words.
Wake me when it’s over.
Droned on for two hours.
Or, six score minutes.
Know the name of the other orator?
Or what he said?
Thank goodness for Google.
For all, there are life lessons aplenty resting there in Gettysburg.
For writers, there is a special one:
Words used sparingly often have far greater impact, convey far greater meaning and far greater understanding than words used in countless – even careless? — abundance.
Word scarcity has its place.
Brevity often is instructive.
Succinctness can rule the day.
Just listen to Abe.
Let each word say something.
Really say something.
Choose each with great care.
Surely Abe showed us that.
There in those hallowed grounds, just a battered Chevy’s drive away.
Scores of years ago.
Roger Summers is a journalist and essayist who spends time in Texas, New Mexico and England and in a world of curiosity and creativity. He can be reached at email@example.com.