His name is the most popular place name in the United States by a wide margin.
His image is on two items of our currency, and he is one of the first American historical figures children learn about in school.
If I said Father of His Country, who comes to mind?
You got it - George Washington.
But monuments, myths involving cherry trees, and car dealership sales in honor of his birthday have obscured the man himself. Generations of Americans have venerated Washington to the point where we are in danger of not truly understanding the source of their praise.
There is a complex man beyond the simple image.
George was an excellent horseman and a polished dancer, yet he read his public speeches in a low, mumbling voice. He possessed an incandescent temper that could take control of him in his unguarded moments. (One time in particular during the Battle of Harlem Heights is one of my favorite moments of his story, ask me about it sometime!)
However, he became known for being a pillar of calm amidst desperate circumstances.
He was both a product of and opponent against the Southern culture of slavery.
He was self-effacing and retiring in public, yet very aware of his place in history. Well that he might, because he had traveled far to achieve it.
When he was 22 years-old, George Washington began his career with brash dreams of glory. Soon, however, reality presented itself in the form of a bloody and disastrous debacle in the remote forest of western Pennsylvania. This defeat was placed squarely upon Washington and it set into motion the French and Indian War, a conflict that would erase France’s North American empire and begin the decay of British-American relations.
Now, consider the other bookend of his public life at the age of 64, the publication of his Farewell Address.
It was a letter to the American people announcing that he would not seek a third term as President and to remind them of the ideals he believed would ensure the future success of the United States. It is a document that circulated more widely than the Declaration of Independence and is as relevant today as it was two centuries ago.
The beauty of examining his life and discovering his journey from a disgraced lieutenant colonel to one of the most respected and popular people in the world is the realization that he was human.
He was capable of making big mistakes, yes, but also of achieving great things. Just like us.