What an interesting few weeks we have had lately. It seems only last week I was wondering which poorly coiffed whack-a-doodle was going to depress a button and send us all into nuclear winter and now my thoughts have been spun toward — or backwards — to The Civil War.
These past few days have been a time of deep soul-searching, deeper reflection, a lot of reading, a lot of listening, a lot of remembering, a lot of learning.
I’m a house divided to quote our 16th president.
Or, more aptly, I’m a brain and heart divided.
One part of my gene pool stems from staunch Quakers, – you know, those stalwart, pacifistic, lovers of all mankind, seeing that of God in everyone, abolitionists, often confused with Amish, peaceniks — Quakers: some who fled to Indiana during this unpleasantness; some who stayed put and protested and refused to take up arms.
THIS is why my heart hurt when I saw the angry crowd in Charlottesville — those individuals from both sides of the argument with stony opinions so plainly etched on their faces that no amount of reasonable discussion could erase.
Another part of my lineage is poor Scotch-Irish farmer stock who DID decide to fight — one of whom, Fielding Kyles, served as a Private in the NC 11th Regiment, NC Infantry, Company E, Confederate Army. Fielding not only fought in and survived Gettysburg, he lived through capture at Petersburg, and imprisonment at Point Lookout, Maryland — only to come home to find his wife had died of smallpox.
THIS is why my heart hurt when I saw pictures of the downing of the statue in Durham — those individuals with righteous indignation and disgust so plainly etched on their faces that no amount of reasonable discussion could erase.
There are few Civil War battlefields in North Carolina and Virginia that I have not visited. As a child, our family adventures needed to be educational and free or cheap. Admittedly, those hilly bumps on the landscape representing battle lines and the black painted cannon facing imaginary foes bored me a little when young. I was more interested in the coolness of the museums with the 15-minute documentary, the fascinating dioramas, and the gift shops. As I grew older though, the stillness of the battlefields with their solemn statuary began to “speak” to me. The earth works and the vast open spaces came alive with “ghosts” of young men fighting and dying for and against…
…well, that’s the debate.
Always an avid reader, I dug into the novel Gone With The Wind for the first time when I was probably nine. Do NOT confuse the long yet abridged movie with this sweeping epic. Margaret Mitchell wrote a captivating narrative of life during that time based upon tales she heard while sitting on the laps of survivors of the war and its trying aftermath. Her descriptions of life, entwined between the love story of Scarlett and Rhett, are raw and at times ugly yet enlightening about the horrors of war, the savagery of the armies from both sides and the deprivations during and after.
Living as I do in rural Virginia, only 30 minutes or so from the site of the Nat Turner Insurrection of 1831 – some thirty years before the firing on Fort Sumter-, I have read a great deal about his story and the effects on Southampton County. A friend with a family connection to a white “supporter” of Turner, attended a gathering several years ago which was supposed to be a dialogue on race, but which quickly turned uncomfortable when one man stood and expressed that “we” should stop killing our own and start killing the whites. Mistrust and open emotional wounds know no color.
Whenever I drive through those backroads where Turner and a group of slaves marched and killed and eventually faced capture, or drive through the sleepy town of Courtland, then Jerusalem, where he and others were jailed, tried and subsequently hanged, I feel the history. The locations “speak” to me — just like those battlefields.
Raised in a home where using the “n” word would be tantamount to dropping the “f-bomb,” I was fortunate to not learn the hate and the “we are better” rhetoric which is still evident today. When integration of schools hit our tiny county when I was in elementary school, a generous benefactor in one of the Meetings my dad was serving at the time, offered to fund my tuition to one of the area private schools because almost all the white families were fleeing the public schools. Dad and Mom politely declined with the reasoning that the world is made up of many different people; isolating our children will not teach them to coexist as adults.
During the week, I have seen social media flooded with memes deflecting the root of this latest issue. Deflection of a topic occurs when an argument is defended by throwing up a “but what about THIS, or HIS actions, or HER actions, or if we take down THIS statue, shouldn’t we take down THAT one.” Whenever I see a deflection theory, admittedly my eyes roll upwards toward the ceiling, my “listening” ears shut down, and I move on.
Deflection is not helpful to swaying opinion nor does it point to a well thought out position on any given topic.
With the exception of the peaceable ones who have attended these rallies with hopes that love can cover hate, with no preconceived agendas of stirring the pot, with peace in their hearts, not revenge, all parties hold some responsibility for the violence.
We are all products of our upbringing and our time. Just as I’ll never know the mindset of either set of ancestors — those who fought, those who fled, those who rebelled — I’m neither equipped to judge their reactions to the stresses facing them in their time.
It’s so simple to play the blame game, to deflect, to stay rooted in our opinions without opening up to self-examination. It’s also so simple to turn a blind eye to injustice.
Have I had a great epiphany as to whether I fall in one camp or the other when it comes to Confederate statues? Nope. I am more in favor of MOVING them than REMOVING them simply because an erased history teaches no lessons and is prone to be repeated.
I also like the quote below by Jefferson — are these statues physically picking anyone’s pockets or breaking anyone’s legs — or have we become a nation of the too-easily-offended?
Somewhere during the week, I recalled the old Quaker tradition of rarely marking graves because they were resolved against “the vanity and superstition of creating monuments and entombing the dead with singular notes or marks of distinction, which is but worldly pomp and grandeur, for no encomium nor pompous interment can add worth to the deceased.”
And that quickly flowed into an inward debate on the second commandment…are we “worshiping” these idols in the name of our own stubborn sense of historical significance?
The only truth which I can confidently set forth is, we’re still fighting issues from over 150 years ago and resolution of these hurt feelings and complex situations will not be achieved simply by the removal of metal and concrete. THIS is so much deeper than that. Inward reflection, contemplation, education, walking a mile in another’s shoes metaphorically in order to see all sides, is the only mature way to move forward.
That’s how I feel today.
I am still a house divided — brain and heart.