And This Moment

On a clear, sunny, somewhat chilly November day, the man in the room struggled to get into his dark blue coat. The act of dressing himself was one of many things that he had to relearn. Eating, writing, reading, horseback riding, and more, all the things he used to do without thinking were now slightly harder. They took thought and they took effort.

He had only one arm.

And though he wouldn’t know it, his name would be lost to history, to all the people who would subsequently live in his dearly beloved United States of America.

The severed arm was the price he had paid for serving as a captain in the Union Army during the first half of the Civil War.

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The One-Armed Man with No Name finally got into his coat. He checked to make sure he was properly dressed. His uniform looked smart. He went outside into the small town overflowing with people. Some were excited. Some were somber. Some were a little of both. He was one of 20,000 in the town on this day, nearly ten times its normal size.

By a little after noon, the One-Armed Man with No Name stood with a crowd of other people. He and perhaps a dozen more were jammed together inside the larger crowd. He was about twenty feet from a long, rectangular wooden platform. That was for the Important People. He was close enough that if he spoke loudly the Important People could hear him. He was also close enough to hear what the Important People said if they too spoke in full voice.

The One-Armed Man had been standing for nearly three hours. He had listened to prayers, listened to songs, listened to a speech that ran for long past an hour. The Long Talker was one of those Important People on the platform.

When the Long Talker finished, a burly-looking man on the platform stood up and announced the next speaker. While the big man was making his short announcement, another man with a contraption—a box-like camera—moved into position not far from the One-Armed Man with No Name. The photographer squeezed a button and the image glazed onto a glass plate.

The Burly-Looking Man sat down and a tall, thin, haggard man dressed in black stood up and walked to the front of the platform. He faced toward the crowd, including the One-Armed Man with No Name.

For the next three minutes or so, Abraham Lincoln recited a speech that would become known as the Gettysburg Address. He held a sheet of paper in one of his two hands, the text of his speech, written out in not quite three hundred words. His voice was clear, flat, and just a bit high-pitched.

A few words into the speech the One-Armed Man with No Name began to cry. After another couple of sentences, his cries turned into deep sobs, his body moving as the emotion rolled out. Taking his one remaining hand, he covered his face. The tears soaked his cheeks and fingers. Trickles of tears ran down below his nose and mouth. Before the speech was over, the One-Armed Man with No Name cast all control aside and shouted out at the top of his lungs, shouted out toward the platform with Important People, shouted out in connection with Abraham Lincoln. He burst forth with words from deep inside him.

“Almighty God,” he exclaimed, “Bless Abraham Lincoln!!!!”

The crowd of a dozen, wedged in around him, whispered, “Amen….”

The spiritual life of the American Experience is not measured just in laws, not only by where we put the needle in the back-and-forth relations between church and state. It’s also not completely embodied in poll results of habits and attitudes, as in this percentage says that or that percentage says this. In terms of the story of the American Experience and where spirituality has affected the flow of that story, the true nature of spirituality rests in citizens like the One-Armed Man with No Name.