Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Death, and Life

I went to see Finding Nemo 3D last night.  It's still one of my favorite movies.  It stands up amazingly well even though it's ten years old....the way they captured the various textures of being under water still still astounds me.

When I'm here in Raleigh - I work.  I get up at 5, I'm at work by 7 and typically I don't leave until 7.  I've got an opportunity to meet some people for dinner tonight so I may force myself to get out but we'll see.  At the moment I'm 50/50 about it....not that I have anything better to do but just because....

Friday I'm headed to Asheville to see David Gray.  I saw him in Charleston last year and would go wherever was within driving range to see him.  Asheville is 250 miles from here so it's not an insignificant jaunt.  Regardless, I'm looking forward to it.  The combination of my enjoyment of concerts plus seeing artists I've enjoyed for years just makes these kinds of things special.  I close my eyes and float with it all sometimes....

Then?  Not sure yet.

When I got back to my hotel room I was switching through the channels and somehow ended up on something that was more than worthwhile.  It's something I doubt I'll ever forget.  It was on  the PBS show American Experience and was a documentary film titled "Death and the Civil War".

It was fascinating, horrifying, and very revealing.  The entire episode is available online for those with a couple of hours on their hands (watch it here).  It's a couple of hours well spent....just watch the first few minutes if you get a chance.

There's a review of it from the NY Times yesterday, as well (read it here).   Seeing those photos, hearing from those letters, having the benefit of hindsight to consider what happened - I can't even begin to imagine the unspeakable horror of it all.

Living in the South now brings new meaning to things I haven't seen or considered before or learned in a different way.  The Civil War (or, the War of Northern Aggression as some there still call it) continues to be an integral part of identity.  As a main port of entry for many slaves and a flash point for secession - it played more than a minor role.  History is on every street.

I remember my senior year of high school in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and their interpretations of Americans and American History.  It was totally different than we had been taught in our American schools.  Right or wrong?  Who's to say.  But certainly seen through different eyes, from a different perspective.

That's one of the benefits of calling South Carolina home has become.  New insight.  New perspective.  There's a scene in the video about the mass burial of Union soldiers who died at a racetrack turned prison in downtown Charleston.  But more than anything, this show is about the efforts of everyday people to identify the dead and get them back to where they belonged for burial.

Needless to say, the effort was very much a Union effort and, in fact, is the basis of what has become Memorial Day.  The South didn't recognize any Holiday to celebrate the Union war dead so they came up with their own date.  But the efforts of people like Clara Barton and countless others to identify both Union AND Confederate casualties and bring their bodies back home from mass, unmarked graves in from places like Antietam and Gettysburg for burial in the south - without funding or government support - is fascinating, very sad, and amazing.

I'm not going to get into an argument about the Civil War.  The last time I brought up the Civil War here some were looking to fight about it.  Still.  Or again.  I'm not gonna do that.  As far as I'm concerned it's all part of our collective American Heritage and in that context it's worth knowing.

I've never said this here before - but I believe in past lives.  I don't really care to get into specifics because it's not relevant.  What I do know is that I have a memory - whether it's from a dream or from some other place - of lying in a quiet woods on an a warm day, surrounded by tall skinny trees, on a blanket of leaves, all alone, looking up through the trees to the sky, and dying.  Regardless of the reality of that experience or not - watching this show reminded me of that.

Life is fragile.  That's why it begs to be lived.

1 comment:

Sophie Lynne said...

There are several facinating books on this topic. one is specifically about the dead of Gettysburg, which discusses how that very small town suddenly had to deal with over 100,000 dead and wounded soldiers, and such things as soveneir hunters, etc.

One of the main problems with the repatriation of Confederate dead was that they were seen as traitors (go figure) and, as such, didn't warrant a decent burial. The fact that some people had enough foresight and humanity to see those soldiers got home is a testiment to their character.