Why, I ask, do laughter and joy come in the same spots where time has left a stain of darkness? What voice tells time that renewal must come? Beauty is not present in total peace, but rather it stands over suffering. They were there, and we see it now.
Twenty three thousand. There lies numbers of mass destruction as brother destroys brother on a quest perhaps for liberty, or perhaps simply for a few more miles of land to claim. The civil war itself left more soldiers dead and dying than any other war, and Antietam claims to the bloodiest day of American history.
We stood overlooking the memories of people not too different from ourselves, who on vast farmland stood tall as if their mission was for courage. They stood, and if evenly distributed, 30 stories per minute were turned forever by casualty. I and others again and again were struck by contrast looking upon fields of wildflowers and imagining at that same moment the fear and shock of death, of being forgotten.
What does it mean to hold a legacy? What does it say that the pain of thousands was required to turn a war to the goal of emancipation? Where lies the justification that we can raft down a river, laughing and talking in places where young men spent hours being slaughtered over the simple act of crossing a bridge?
I think time has a sense of humor. I think it understands that human beings are too fragile to bear the weight of constant tragedy in any one place. It therefore turns to renew what was lost, to restore forgotten beauty. I saw this during our trip to Antietam, what with fields of flowers, people remembered, and with creeks running cool water; peaceful moments.
I relish times of connection, and this spot of remembrance definitely restored that part of me, as we all drifted together regardless of background or personal biases. We came as one, ready to smile, to laugh, to spend summer as moments of hope. Off the battlefield and into the creek, I appreciated a day in which the goal was not to learn history, but to live on the other side of its effects. For what history brings is perspective. It takes both crucial and insignificant moments, then it shares a story, a moral of what is right and what is broken.
In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Lost time is never found again.” These moments we share over the course of the month are where time regains its significance, where we find the narratives that have disguised themselves, but were always present. A bird’s nest under a bridge, a slight drop over rapids, and once again perspective is found; joy is discovered a light over shadowed hours.