“Over the course of the millennia, all these multitudes of ancestors, generation upon generation, have come down to this moment in time—to give birth to you. There has never been, nor will ever be, another like you. You have been given a tremendous responsibility. You carry the hopes and dreams of all those who have gone before. Hopes and dreams for a better world. What will you do with your time on this earth? How will you contribute to the ongoing story of humankind?” Laurence Overmire
Our national parks serve an important purpose – each of them. I’ve been to a few and tilted my head and pondered their individual significance for a while, yet others have been obvious. This week has been full of battlefields and American history, specifically the Civil War. Throughout our short history as a country, we’ve lost over 1.2 million citizens to war. HALF of those deaths were a result of the Civil War. What struck me regarding the massive casualties is the number of family trees that resulted in broken branches.
Most of us can create a family tree that goes back a few generations to our great grandparents. I’m fortunate to have parents who researched and studied our lineage on both sides as far back as a dozen or so generations and several centuries. When I’ve traveled throughout Europe, many Europeans will ask about my ethnicity. It’s fun to explain that I am a true American because I’m part Dutch, English, Irish, Scottish, French, and German but mostly English and Irish. I know this because my parents have identified exactly which relatives came from where. I’m fortunate that they did all that work!
That said, I think about the millions of families that do not exist because of the Civil War alone. With each life lost, that family tree branch was broken: That lineage ended. Between Edward Doty landing in Plymouth on the Mayflower (and being one of just 45 individuals to have survived the first winter) and all the generations who survived the many wars that followed, it is a miracle that my kiddos exist at all. For my children, however, their family tree branch has been splintered by divorce – not broken, but damaged. I pray that they will rebuild that branch, making it strong once again because so many never had the opportunity. I ask them, “What will you do with your time on this earth? How will you contribute to the ongoing story of humankind?” And so, I ask you the same.
When my children were in elementary school, the curriculum required them to memorize the Gettysburg Address. It was not until I stood where Abraham Lincoln stood on the top of a hill in Gettysburg overlooking thousands of unmarked graves when I began to understand its meaning. We live in the greatest country in the world – I have no doubt. It frustrates me when its citizens criticize and hatefully judge one another, are divided by just about every issue, choose not to vote, or dishonor the freedom provided to them through the sacrifices of so many (especially after visiting sites about Women’s Suffrage, Freedom Riders, Underground Railroad, and Civil War). When I see the vast lists of faceless names who never had the chance to grow up or grow old in the country for which they fought, I am humbled once again by Lincoln’s words and pray for a change of heart for the citizens who are fortunate to have survived a long line of broken branches.
Four score 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 can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not 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 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. Abraham Lincoln – November 19, 1863