Larry Buxton on: Growing up and growing wise with Abraham Lincoln

Larry Buxton reading with his lifelong friend.

Author of 30 Days with King David: On Leadership

I’m in the 7th grade, soon to be 13 years old. I get up from bed just a little after 10:00  and go outside in the dark. I walk to the edge of the front lawn, just by the street, and I look up. It’s a mid-April night, the skies are clear, stars are visible, and the air is cool.  I stare into the infinite darkness, and I ponder, as best as my pre-adolescent wisdom will allow, the scope of 100 years.

Larry Buxton works as a consultant with a wide range of leaders. Click on this cover to visit his book’s Amazon page.

I would have to live my same life over and over, eight times, to fill 100 years.  Once, twice, three times, four … I can’t fathom this. The year 1865 was decades before all the oldest people I know were even born.  My father’s father, “Pop,” is the oldest of my grandparents, and he seems the most like Abraham Lincoln of the family: He’s quiet, thoughtful, dignified, and good with his hands. I wonder if Pop, like Lincoln, had had rough and tumble experiences in his growing up or in his working as a machinist at the Shipyard. But he’s quiet and gentle with me, as I know Father Abraham would have been too.

The moonlight helps me read my watch: 10:15. In just a few minutes it will be one hundred years. My father will be 50 in a few months, I realize. He’s hardly a young man, and yet the time from 1865 until his birth is the same length of time that he’s been alive. I’m amazed. I can’t begin to grasp what 100 years is like. Images of horses and carriages, fields and plows, cowboys and lawmen, roadsters and bi-planes, flappers, Depression lines, a jumble of images from television and books and movies all race through my mind.

Then it’s 10:20. I look up. I listen for a sound, an echo, even an echo in my imagination, sounding from deep within the abyss of years. It was at this very moment that a shot was fired in Ford’s Theater, 200 miles north of where I’m standing, a shot that ended my hero’s life. This exact moment, 100 years ago to the second. Now!

I listen. I hear just the sounds of a spring night, nothing more. But I’ve marked the moment. I’ve stood and remembered and listened. Maybe God knows I’ve been out here.  Maybe God will tell Mr. Lincoln about this boy standing outside in the dark, in April, remembering him and missing him, too.

I walk back up to the front porch and slip inside. I go back into my room, where above my bed hangs another framed poster of the man. Dad knows of my fascination with this wise, tender President, and he frequently writes the Lincoln Life Insurance Company in Indiana asking for posters. Occasionally a brown cardboard tube will arrive with Dad’s name on it, and I get excited. I know what it is, and I’m eager to see the new print. Mom will frame it for me and position it right above my headboard. It’s always the first thing I see when I walk into my bedroom.

He is a silent, comforting presence in my life. Mom and Dad are good parents, for sure, and I know I’m fortunate. But life is still hectic and confusing, putting up with two noisy brothers, a big furry dog and a skittish cat, plenty of chores, and endless homework.  At school I’ve been one of the new kids this year, and I’ve noticed that 7th grade girls are different from 6th grade girls. They whisper more and giggle more, and I worry sometimes that it’s about me–when my voice cracked in science class, or when I stumbled off the bus and dropped my books in the mud. Or when I lost my wrestling match because the head cheerleader’s brother twisted me like a pretzel in gym class. It’s been an awkward year.

But at home, in my room, there is this quiet understanding. Abraham Lincoln had known awkwardness and embarrassment, too, but he radiates serenity and acceptance. He tells me that my future will hold something deep and important that I can’t see yet. His eyes show kindness, which I crave. His gaunt cheeks and dark beard promise me wisdom to come, something I can’t locate at all in my chubby body and facial fuzz.  His steady expression speaks of his determination to forge peace in a violent, hate-filled country. I love having Lincoln’s face watch over me at night, see me off to school in the morning, and welcome me home each afternoon. He is part of my private family.

Now 50 years have passed since that April night. A half-century again divides then and now. I’ve learned a lot about Lincoln as a father and husband. I’ve also learned about he led our bitterly-divided country as the President.

I have boyhood memories of “The President” being a noble and impressive job, held by men of character. But from those days til now, our nation’s Presidents have been men who’ve been shot, ridiculed, lampooned, embarrassed, impeached, disgraced, impeached, vilified and impeached again – on and on. Some commentators consider our era now heading towards “another civil war.”

But I cultivate an odd dream.  The dream is that in April of 2015, 150 years after that night in Ford’s Theater, some young adolescent also captivated by the soul of Abraham Lincoln kept a brief nighttime vigil under the stars. Some young girl or boy noted the hour and the minute and slipped outside. That teenager listened carefully for an echo from the past and tried to bring something of that moment into ordinary life.

That adolescent would be 20-something now, maybe finishing school or entering the working world. I dream that Lincoln’s kindness and compassion, his strength and determination, his character and wisdom are deepening the heart of another human soul. I dream that that person will emerge in the years to come ready to offer Lincolnesque leadership to a family, a community–even to our own weary nation.


The Rev. Dr. Larry Buxton has been an ordained United Methodist minister since 1975. His book, 30 Days with King David: On Leadership, is a character-focused study of the historical King of Israel. Larry began Larry Buxton Coaching in 2012 and holds the ACC credential from the International Coach Federation and the BCC credential from the Center for Credentialing & Education.  He is also a certified Resilient Leadership coach. To learn more about his work, please visit his professional website.


Care to Read More in our Fourth of July 2023 series on Lincoln?

Whatever you choose to read next, you will find the following links to the other 2023 columns at the bottom of each page:

Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer’s introduction to this series includes a salute to Braver Angels, a nationwide nonprofit dedicated to de-polarizing American politics that is gathering from across the country for a major conference at Gettysburg this week.

Duncan also writes about: What were Lincoln’s hopes for our nation?

And, he explores: What were Lincoln’s core values?

Then, journalist and author Bill Tammeus writes about how Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address still calls us to reach out to one another.

Journalist and author Martin Davis asks: Are our battle-scarred American roads capable of carrying us toward unity?

Author and leadership coach Larry Buxton writes about: Growing up and growing wise with Abraham Lincoln

Columnist and editor Judith Pratt recalls: Hearing our Civil War stories shared generation to generation.

Attorney and community activist Mark Jacobs writes about: How Lincoln’s astonishing resilience and perseverance inspires me today



Want the book?

GET A COPY of Duncan’s 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln—Quiet Fire.

Each of the 30 stories in this book includes a link to listen to the original radio broadcasts. The book is available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions.




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