I decided to major in history midway through college because the classes were within easy walking distance of my dorm. Simple as that. And by the time I graduated, whether owing to the baseness of my motives or something to do with the courses themselves, what had begun as a mild interest in antiquity had become a mild aversion to it.
Ten years later, I easily ignored the original broadcast of Ken Burns’ 9-part documentary survey of the Civil War. I also ignored “Roots,” The History Channel, geneology, politics, Daytimers and everything else that smelled the tiniest bit like dates or lineages or chains of command.
I even stopped wearing watches (though, to be honest, that might have been because they made my wrist itch).
How is it, then, that I’ve just devoured all 10 hours of the Burns series? How is it that I was moved to tears by it — not nearly, but repeatedly?
Somehow or other, I linked last week to episode #3 of the PBS Frontline series “God In America” and was impressed by the discussion there of religion’s role in Lincoln’s war. Sounds dry, I know, but it wasn’t.
That’s what led me to Burns, and Burns led me to … hmm … maybe this …
At the end of A Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Christmas Future points a bony finger at Scrooge’s grave. It’s a terrifying epiphany for Scrooge. What has come before, what might be. How things truly are.
Imagine the whole grisly harvest of the Civil War, all 620,000 soldiers, standing on a hill. Imagine them pointing at something in the distance. Behind them are tens of millions of other soldiers from a thousand other wars and in front of them are all the war dead who’ve come after. All of them pointing.
What are they pointing at? Death? Transfiguration? God?
The expression “like moths to the flame” comes to mind.
A friend asked me recently whether I thought it wrong of her to own stock in Chevron. It’s the only part of her portfolio that’s performing.
In her case, given how careful she is to do no harm in almost every other aspect of her life, I think forgiveness is in order. Not so in my case. I don’t try hard enough. I’ve let too many opportunities to do good slip by. I’ve subverted “the better angels of our nature” too many times.
What about you?
Peeve o’ the Day: Mothers who sit their toddlers on deli counters while they pay their bills. Ladies, please. The village may be helping you raise your child, but most of us would rather you didn’t swab our food service areas with its ass.