This week’s Thursday Tidbits considers the past through the lens of the present, as seen through my recent visit to the American Civil War site of the Battle of Natural Bridge, fought on March 6, 1865.
“To dwell in the here and now does not mean you never think about the past, or responsibly plan for the future. The idea is simply not to allow yourself to get lost in regrets about the past or worries about the future. If you are firmly grounded in the present moment, the past can be an object of inquiry, the object of your mindfulness and concentration. You can attain many insights by looking into the past, but you are still grounded in the present moment.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh ~
Grounded in the present moment, standing on the invading side of the battle site breastworks, caught up in the radiance of a June morning 148 years later, the breastworks and I overlook a river bend, surrounded by dogwoods. We are the anomalies.
I am conscious of lives long past and I am just as aware that my presence, my literal and figurative footprint, is already mingling among those memories. Such is presence among the past.
Memory is always tinted, whatever the reason we recall a moment. What comes to us is tinged, softened around the edges, imprecise. No moment ever plays out exactly as it occurred for we are, and it was.
Each moment we have is a one-time shot whose existence is preserved precisely in the past. The mindful inquiry into the past acknowledges the tinted lens, whether it is the close-up of a personal memory or the wide-angle view of history.
So on a radiant June morning, a still life study in green and light, I tread the dew of a battle site. Although trained as a historian, battles and war are not stories that interest me, yet it is history that has brought me here.
The old woman whose story I am writing discovered a part of her past that stumped me, and this battle site is as physically close to the old woman’s past as I can get. Her connection to the Civil War recalled my initial discovery of the Battle of Natural Bridge.
When I first moved to Florida, I lived near battle fortifications that local legend associates with the natural bridge battle but history has proven otherwise. I always found the legend a great story, and after two years of walking by those fortifications on a daily basis, local legend became my version of the battle.
Now, over a decade later, it is not hard to understand how my fondness for the legend worked its way into the old woman’s story. Yet, the legend did not serve her story but history seems to, so far.
As I look across the still waters of the St. Marks River, I am grateful the old woman’s story has brought me to the actual battle site. It has made for a lovely morning and a memory grounded in the present, an object for inquiry again and again.
Also accompanying me that morning and in the writing of this post was Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” I hope you enjoy the music and the images. Both are worth the status of memory.
Thursday Tidbits are weekly posts that offer choice bits of information to celebrate our oneness with one another through our unique perspectives. It is how we connect, how we have always connected but in the 21st century, the connection is a global one.