Sunday, July 10, 2016
When I read in a Philosophy of Walking about the various reason why people go on pilgrimages: walking to augment devotion, to perform penance, to honor tradition, I reflected on my own walking at places that have special significance to me and to no one else. Do you have those?
Many years ago, I travelled to Antietam and as the day drew to a close, I was alone and able to walk across Burnside’s bridge. I went back and forth across it and counted my steps – seventy-five. All day the Union forces had tried to cross that bridge under a withering fire from Confederate soldiers embedded in the rocks above the bridge. Wave after wave of Union soldiers tried and were repulsed, the water of Antietam Creek ran red with the blood of the wounded, dying and dead soldiers and I wonder what it must have been like for them. As I left the bridge for the last time that day, I chanced to see a ground hog up the hill and I wondered if his ancestors had been there on that day as silent witnesses to what man is capable of.
I am an Abraham Lincoln fan and I have been to his birthplace several times and been blessed to be able to walk around when no one else is there and to imagine what it must have been like for him to live there as a young boy. The tree that was there close to the well when he was a young boy had been cut down the last time I visited. I also visited where he lived in New Salem, Illinois. I wanted to be somewhere where I knew for certain that he had been. When we read about historical figures, many times we are told that there is a high probability that they were there, but not with complete certainty. In reading about Lincoln, I knew of his love for Ann Rutledge and I knew from records and interviews with the neighbors that when she died he was extremely distraught and would go to the grave and lay down on the ground and grieve. I knew if there was ever a place that I could be close to Lincoln it was there.
I spent several hours trying to find it, I stopped and spoke to several people and finally found someone who could tell me where it was located and that I would have to walk across a field to get to the cemetery. That was a very special walk, the grass had been flatten alongside a little ditch and I could see a farmer ploughing in the distance. As I enter the cemetery and finally located Ann’s grave, I found a marker that indicated that they had disinterred Ann’s remains to move them into the town so it would be easier for the tourists to visit, I shook my head in disbelief. As I knelt down, I tried to imagine the incredible grief that Lincoln must have felt at losing her and how that affected him for the rest of his life. As I left, I walked over to where the farmer was plowing, he stopped his tractor, and I thanked him for letting me walk across his field. He said that as long as he owned the property it would be okay. As I drove away, I carried with me a memory that will always be very special.
Have you had special walks that you can share?