I love this:
She rescued me. I'd be playing a steak house right now if it wasn't for her. I wouldn't even be playing in a steak house. I'd be cooking in a steak house.
-Tom Waits, on his wife and collaborator, Kathleen Brennan
It's a terrific statement about the people that come into our lives at uncanny intersections at just the right time.
People who rescue us.
His quote connects to a story I wanted to share in today's blog: A little-known rescue between two friends in Springfield, Illinois, in the 1800's.
The first friend is a name you know, Abraham Lincoln. But the second friend is not a household name.
I read about Abraham Lincoln's friend Joshua Speed from a book about secret sidekicks in history. It was in April 1837 that Joshua met Abraham when he came into Speed's country store looking for bedroom items - a bed, mattress, sheet and pillow. Speed described 28-year-old Lincoln as "ungainly...a little stooped in the shoulders. His eyes were gray. His face and forehead were wrinkled...Generally, he was a very sad man."
Speed learned why Lincoln was depressed. Lincoln admitted that he was just starting out as a lawyer and had no confidence that he'd be successful. The $17 bill for the bedroom items could be too much. "If I fail in this," Lincoln said, "I do not know if I can ever repay you." "You seem to be so much pained at contracting so small a debt," said Speed, and offered Lincoln another idea: Instead, become his roommate, a common practice for men at that time. Lincoln accepted.
And so began nearly three decades of friendship. That first winter together Lincoln hosted groups of 8-10 people to Speed's house every night for long conversations on a variety of topics. Later, Speed would recall that Lincoln would have conversations with anyone "without distinction of party," inviting debate and discussion from several viewpoints. A few years later, it was Speed that stood by Lincoln's side when he fell into a deep depression upon ending his engagement with Mary Todd. Speed removed razors and knives from Lincoln's room. He told his friend to pull himself together or he would die. Lincoln replied, he wouldn't mind dying if he had done anything that he would be remembered for.
Speed remained an advisor and friend to Lincoln through the run-up to the Civil War and during it. Although he turned down various Cabinet positions, Speed visited the Lincoln often. In fact, on one visit he attended a meeting Lincoln had with two mothers from Pennsylvania, petitioning for the release of their sons, who were in prison for avoiding the draft. According to Speed the women were unkind to Lincoln, but at the end of the meeting Lincoln announced he would pardon all 27 draft dodgers even though the decision was against the counsel of his Secretary of War. The women left, jubilant, and Lincoln confided to Speed that he believed one of the women was a fraud and actually the wife of one of the prisoners. Nevertheless, "Those poor fellows suffered enough, " Lincoln said.
It was the last time Speed saw Lincoln for two weeks later he was assassinated.
Without Speed, would Lincoln have been able to become one of our greatest US Presidents? Would Lincoln have overcome his insecurity as a lawyer? Been able to hold late-night meetings to understand the people he would later represent? Would Lincoln have died heartbroken over his broken engagement? Without his friend Speed -- with him in so many hours of need -- would Lincoln have been in place to lead us out of the Civil War?
This connection between the two friends does not seem accidental.
This story caught my imagination because it aligns with my mission statement: In everything I do I believe in pushing against limitations. In everything I do I believe in finding connection.
We have a connection and I'm grateful for it!
Update to steps on exploring writing a book
Writing 30 minutes/day: Today is Day 78! Last week I failed miserably in my idea to write in the mornings but still got the sessions in, mostly at night.
Reading a not-similar author: Every now and then I pick up a slim volume, Essays After Eighty, by poet and prose writer Donald Hall. Hall's work has nothing to do with my quest to write a book and today he gave me my excuse. This morning I read this, "...before Yeats went to sleep every night he read an American Western. When Eliot was done with peotry and editing, he read a mystery book. Everyone who concentrates all day, in the evening needs to let the half-wit out for a walk. Sometimes it is Zane Grey, sometimes Agatha Christie, sometimes [watching] the Red Sox." Ha!
Let me close with this lyric about rescuing others from one of Tom Waits' songs:
Oh, you got to hold on, hold on
You gotta hold on
Take my hand, I'm standing right here, you gotta hold on
Chorus from "Hold On"
I'm standing right here too...have a wonderful week!