Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Journal Entry: Wilderness, Virginia; Sunday, April 24, 1864

I am dead.

No, you are breathing; this is not a place to die and this is not the time.

That is all of the conversation that I remember as my brothers brought me home last month. Small bits and visions move through my memory, but the ride home was mostly wiped away. A MiniĆ© ball is made of soft lead and can inflect massive damage inside the body; to be hit by two and not die is seemingly impossible. I should be dead, but no bones or vitals were hit, so my brother sewed me up with horse hair and hope. The scars are ragged, but they are healing. Last week, Doctor McGuire took a look at me and said I will have limited movement due to the more worrisome wound, the larger gash behind my left shoulder, where I was thrown into that unyielding oak.

My father’s thoroughbred, Shortcake, is once again rested and ready. The 9th Virginia Cavalry is near the Orange Courthouse, so I must make myself ready to join my brothers in arms, my brothers of blood, and my brothers across the field of fire as we work out the final act in this drama. America could not have expected its founders to create a perfect union; we are still working out the design of this republic.

The pain of each wound pounds with the rhythm of my heartbeat, but that is merely an annoyance. The pain at the center of my heart, the hurt that takes my breath away is the sorrow of leaving Marianna once again. Poe’s raven watcher preferred that ancient Greek elixir, Nepenthe, the drug of forgetfulness, but Marianna is not Lenore; I shall never choose to forget.

Uncle James and Aunt Martha took Marianna to church this morning, leaving me to my own sanctuary, the mulberry tree. Here, beneath the refuge of her benevolent branches, I find myself simply sitting, breathing; watching the wonder of that quiet act, that profound power to breathe or feel another’s warm breath on your cheek. One should not have to visit death to become acquainted with life.

The world beyond the Wilderness is in various stages of chaos and calm, but right here I am in the center of the world. I can feel the whirlwind circling, but am not a part of it now. Tomorrow, I will tuck my scarf into my jacket, pull my slouch hat down to shield my eyes, and ride back into the gale.

The mighty armies could not kill me; the mighty oak could not kill me. Eventually, little by little, or all at once, this body will die, and that is just as it should be, but it will not kill me. I am the breath.

The house pictured above is the Wilderness Corner, Virginia homeplace of the Jones Family. In Federal Civil War era maps it is listed as the residence of the widow Jones, though she was not a widow; her husband, a blacksmith for the Confederate Army, was concealed behind a secret wall panel.

"Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore." from The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe 1845


  1. "One should not have to visit death to become acquainted with life." - amongst others, these are powerful words. Great image too.

  2. It just takes my breath away when I read your entries, Michael. I hope to see a book out of all these entries in the future. You have the talent to write; it is God's gift.

  3. "One should not have to visit death to become acquainted with life." This struck me as well, both as great writing and in a small way from personal experience. One shouldn't have to, but it happens that way sometimes, and that re-acquaintance is a second chance to appreciate, to breathe, to soar.


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