Yes, it has taken me 28 years to get that fiddle tune out of my head, but it’s back now that I re-watched Ken Burns’s first documentary, The Civil War.
After almost three decades, technology has changed such that I streamed it from Netflix into my gigantic teevee, in high definition, better to see all the black-and-white tintypes and daguerrotypes and blurry portraits of Abraham Lincoln in perfect blurriness.
Maybe this post needs a soundtrack, so here you go: fire up “Ashokan Farewell” as you read this. It is a heartbreaking song for the most heartbreaking chapter in our nation’s history. Two percent of the population of the United States died during that war.
I feel like I see the world better than I did in 1990, when this series premiered. I don’t recall crying when I watched it back then. The horror of it all seemed distant, the concept of a country divided seemed like something far behind us.
Back then, I was just married, just moved back to Nashville, with all the in-laws nearby and my head in a cloud of books.
Now, 28 years later, the cogs of life have churned and cranked, and here we are, with two boys grown, the in-laws only a beautiful memory. I’m sitting here in the basement, creaking my muscles on my exercise mat without much success, as I think about where we are right now, and I’m overwhelmed.
That conflict, begun 157 years ago, was a seismic rending of our country. Are we headed toward something equally dangerous right now?
I hope not. But it has been a grotesque season, hasn’t it? We need to think hard about the things we love, the things we value, and the things we need to protect. Everybody has their own list, and there is no one list. But life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness seem to be something we all need to agree on. Somehow.
(Getting toward the end of the song now.)
And yet . . .
A group over in the Lounge is knitting a blanket for Pittsburgh. It’s going to take about a million squares to cover that city, but I think they’re up for it. Join in here.
Judy Wright’s new granddaughter just arrived. Good thing Judy finished her next Sheet Pan Supper post—she’ll be a goner for a while now.
And we all keep knitting. It seems inadequate to these rugged days, but it’ll have to do.
(OK, the song has ended, so I’ll stop.)
PS I’m going to do something unprecedented in the history of knitting websites and post Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It’s the last sentence (in bold) that I’m thinking about these days.
“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.“