Saturday, August 21, 2010
Hope for Us
Journal Entry: Friday, September 26, 1862
It is now nearly a week since we crossed that meandering river, away from the malodorous mayhem of Sharpsburg, and still, most of the memory stays with me; I am sure I will never shake it. Where the Potomac meets the Opequon creek, we camp. We came here to rest, and wait; what will the shoulder straps shake up for us next?
We went into Maryland to take the war north, away from our homes; we returned leaving tens of thousands on the field; men and mounts dead, or dying, on the soil from whence they came; waiting for relief; an hour, a day, another day; perhaps never. Am I the blessed one, or are they? I have always believed that the hanged man is more fortunate than the man imprisoned forever, for the hanged man has been released.
Early this morning, the camp scrambled from their tents as an orb lifted above the river, like an oracle in the northern sky. Sunlight reached it before dawn shone on us below; a Federal reconnaissance hot air balloon lifting into the air, like hope for a lighter tomorrow. Hardly anyone had actually seen one before and it caused quite a stir. One of our sharpshooters bet he could bring it down, but just the sight of it brought us such joy that he was quickly talked out of his wager. Joy; did I just write that word. Joy; I thought it might never return; perhaps there is still hope for us in this hell.
Joy, sorrow, joy, sorrow; how quickly I return to sorrow. Is madness meant to feel this way; one extreme to the other? Here at the Opequon, the Potomac River turns to the north, and then quickly to the south, then back again north, then south again, as though she was unsure which way was right. This river is so much like me; I do not know which way is right. I have completely lost my direction. Were I up in that balloon, high above the mayhem, it would be easier to see that, though the river seems to have lost direction, she, in the end, finds her way and joins the Chesapeake Bay, joins the Atlantic Ocean, and joins her ancient mother.
This river, these states, this boy, eventually, shall all find their footing; find their direction to rejoin some larger truth. There is no future in separation; we were meant to walk together, as we did to form this nation, all peoples in a union. Let the firebrands try to separate us with their talk of difference and division; surely, we are all from the same mother. That must be so. We must make it so. We must.