The 12º F temperature, once again presented me with a solitary contemplation of a thing sacred. A young couple just leaving the gates encouraged me that it’d be alright, as no one else was there, that I enter the final resting place of the fallen Union Soldiers of the Battle of Gettysburg…with my dog. (Only companion animals are welcomed in this holy place). We stuck to the path and made it quick. The spirits imagined by George Saunders in “Lincoln in the Bardo” might forgive me this.
What I’d hoped to view was the knoll where President Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address. We all can be profoundly grateful that such a place is honored in our fraught history. The Civil War’s ending began here and yet we learn daily that our aspiration falls short of the freedoms those soldiers bequeathed to us Americans and — perhaps, the world — that a government of, by, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.
In, “We Were Eight Years in Power” Ta-Nehisi Coates repeatedly visits Gettysburg’s battlefields to contemplate our racist past. It’s what compelled me to make this detour on my way north. The thing that struck me was that indeed, those bodies in that very cold earth, died claiming human equality as our Nation’s Purpose. There are no “Others” in American. Ideally we are all immigrants — or indigenous or brought to these shores in bondage. In the United States today we say we embrace each other as One People.
This troubled time in our own history guides us, as it did for our most admired President’s reading of the Declaration of Independence, toward a shared freedom of equality from oppression. And for your consideration, this surely indicates that economic oppression and racial bias is the modern corollary of abuse of human dignity and fulfillment.
Further on my way north, a missed exit took me through not just fly-over country but drive-past, small-town, coal-country Pennsylvania. On cue, a dump truck received a load of fine, low-sulpher, anthracite coal and its airborne plume of dust. The devastation of smaller towns like this is said to be the factor in the populist, nationalist turn toward the 45thAmerican president. By the look of it in these hamlets, America really is not doing so very great again.
Indeed, knowing that the War to preserve The Union was waged by white and black Americans to end slavery indicates that the division we see in politics and media of recent decades misrepresents the story of Us. We are brothers and sisters struggling for better lives. In this miraculous cultural endowment we will in a continuing struggle find our truest, compassionate and generous selves.