We recently came back from a little getaway to Gettysburg, PA. It was our fifth or sixth trip out to the Battlefields and in spite of the horrific war and incomprehensible amount of death and suffering endured in that small town and its surrounding fields, it has always felt peaceful to me, like I was coming home. One would think that there would be an uneasy or erratic energy in a place where so much bloodshed and emotion was evoked and I couldn’t help but wonder if any restless spirits that may be there or the energy of the blood and bone-soaked land is being soothed by the thousands of visitors that come each year in awe and reverence at the enormity of the three-day battle, silently giving their thanks and appreciation for their sacrifice—not just the soldiers who died but the surgeons, and doctors, and regular townsfolk who helped all along the battle and for a long time afterward.
I’ve seen veterans, old and young, solitary and with families come to give respect. Maybe it is that unspoken “thank you” that has helped the energy of the land and the energy of the town. It is a fact that many soldiers lives ended in Gettysburg—some quickly, some not so, but all cruelly painful and endured as a sacrifice for what they believed in. The energy is palpable without a doubt, but so is the peace.
One night, in the dark we stood in the Wheat Fields where one of the bloodiest events occurred. The breeze kicked up while we stood, allowing our eyes to adjust to the night, and once in a while we could hear the far-off roar of a motorcycle or car, but other than that it was just us and the crickets. I centered myself to feel the energetic movement of the tall grasses in the field and my imagination went to all of the bodies that had lain there at one time. Through it all there was a sense of peace that permeated the field as if it emanating from deep under soil.
Even in the daytime, the sense of peacefulness is tangible. Wednesday, we hiked to Little Round Top, one of the strategic areas during the battle located high up a hill. I walked away to a quieter corner to get some distance from the tour busses and families that were sharing the view. I perched on a rock and gazed across the valley at the distant mountains and all the fields and trees in between and let the the drone of conversations around me fade away as I marveled at all the shades of green and reveled in the gorgeousness of nature. Once more I was struck by the deep tranquility of the land that had once held so much violence.
As I stared at the peaks of the mountains in the distance, a hummingbird flew around me and hovered a couple of feet directly in front of me. In all my years of climbing those rocks, I’ve never seen a hummingbird there but I was not completely surprised because this was the second time in a week (last week being the first time in my life) that I had a close encounter with a hummingbird (that will be another post!). Seeing the hummingbird on the battlefield seemed especially poignant because of the unexpected sweetness of seeing something so innocent and fragile while standing on a rock that was allegedly used by sharpshooters aimed at kill soldiers just down the hill. The irony of the symbolism was not lost on me.
I wonder about the energy of other modern war-torn lands and the energy of the blood and lives lost and lives still there. Are we Americans the only ones to make battlegrounds state parks to preserve the integrity of what we fought for? Is there land set aside in Vietnam? The Pacific? Other areas of the world? Will there be one day? It is not just the people and the descendants of those in battle that suffer and become wounded but the land does as well. How can it not? The earth is alive as and when all the bodies are gone and the towns are left for rubble, it is the land that will continue to hold the energy of the bloodshed and the bodies and the tears. It is the land that will be there long after the bodies are gone and the events are but memories. I am not a political person and I am not a soldier nor a soldier’s wife. I am just one person, one human being, whose heart goes out to those who gave and still give it all for what they believe in, whether it is 151 years ago, or yesterday.
Thank you and peace to you.