04 December 2011

An illuminating evening

This is not a cross stitch post, but it was a wonderfully moving event, and an experience that I wish to share.

Left-brain and I live about an hour from Sharpsburg, Maryland, where the battle of Antietam took place in September, 1862. It is the single bloodiest day in American history, with 23,110 men killed, injured or missing after the battle. Click here if you would like to read a little more about the battle.

For the past 23 years, to honor the memory of those who gave their lives on that day, as well as those who serve our country to preserve the freedom so dearly bought on that day, on the first Saturday of December, 23,110 luminaries, one for every casualty, are lit on the battlefield. I have been twice, and it is probably the strongest argument for "Peace on Earth" one could see.

I do not have pictures of the events of last night. I didn't bother to take my camera; it's a good camera, but not that good, and, to get a decent shot, it would have taken a tripod, long exposure, and a stopped car, and those are not things I have. There are some pictures here. They're much nicer than anything I could take anyway.

The event opened at 6PM, but we got there a half hour early. There were already probably a thousand cars lined up on the shoulder ahead of us at that time, and the line quickly grew after we got there. We didn't actually start moving til 7PM, and didn't get to the gates til 9PM. Yep, we sat there, no potties, just a bottle of water and a bag of Combos to tide us over. I brought a magazine, Left-brain fiddled with stuff in the truck.

It was quite a show in the line. The people in front of us kept getting out of their cars to check their headlights--don't know why, you aren't supposed to have your headlights on in the illumination. Other people kept trying to sneak in the line--one lady kept getting out of her car and confronting them. But, when you've been sitting in your car for 3 hours, and someone jumps, it's frustrating. Finally, the police started cruising the line, rooting out the "butters".

We got in the battlefield gate, handed over a small donation to thank the volunteers for their hard work, then drove into a surreal experience.

When you think of 23110 people, it's hard to picture. At least it is for me. A small college basketball arena, maybe? Half my college's football stadium, at least when I was there? This display goes a long way to show you the scale of loss. Each little light twinkling, telling its own story among the sea of thousands, just as each life follows its own design. Two groups of Civil War reenactors stood amidst the lights, paying silent tribute to their fallen predecessors. It started out a few rows of luminaries, some clusters here and there,but as the car path moved across the battlefield, it turned into a veritable sea of lights spread out across the gently rolling hills.

I appreciated the air of reverence that seemed to permeate the night. We weren't there to gawk and gape, but to ponder the fact that freedom is not free and the human price can be terrible. It almost felt like they were tombstones lined up, maybe the only monument the missing ever get, all equal and even, small soldiers lined up to say, "Remember us, we were here." Such a thing of beauty, living, breathing art, that came out of a terrible day.

If you live in Maryland, or can get to Maryland, please, at some point in your travels, put this as part of your holiday itinerary. It's worth the three hour wait, worth the cold, worth everything, for that one moment of stillness to see the value of one life.

1 comment:

Kathy A. said...

Simply amazing. The casualties from the Civil war were unreal!

I do my thing and you do yours. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, then it is beautiful. If not, it can’t be helped--Frederick Perls