Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lessons From History

Last night we attended the Paoli Illumination, an annual event held at Paoli Battlefield to commemorate the Paoli Massacre of September 20, 1777, an unexpected and prodigiously brutal attack on American forces during the Revolutionary War.  In a word -- well, there is no one word.  Throughout the evening I was struck by so many perceptions and emotions, one of the first being, "I never even knew this existed!"  I wouldn't even call myself a history "buff," but I am definitely an enthusiast.  A childhood of my mother's interest in the Colonial Period proved contagious, and many years of homeschool history's byproduct, the desire to "bring history to life" for my children, made me think I was pretty knowledgeable, particularly about our area's role in the War for Independence.  As they say, "You learn something new every day!"

On a contemporary note, the air was crisp, the sky relatively clear, stars visible, and the moon, though not quite full, still beautifully luminous.  If we'd not been drawn to this place by an email announcing this event we certainly would have missed this glorious night!  Add to that scene, a trail of luminaries stretched across a field, the presence of "ghosts" in period costumes, and the reverent and historic significance of the location, and you've got yourself the makings of goosebumps.

There really is nothing better than experiencing history just as those who made it lived.  Walking in their steps, seeing things by the light in which they saw, hearing shots in the distance and the shouts of those who were struggling fiercely for the freedom of a brand new nation.  At this actuality, one can't help but be moved by the selflessness, the courage and the tenacity of those who gave life and limb for posterity.

As we reached the end of our tour, the folks working the admissions table and some of the earlier vignettes were gathered at the "entrance" for a breather after what was, I'm sure, a long day -- 21st Century volunteers, eating pizza, talking with friends and family on cell phones, disabling car alarms to trade straight-lasted shoes for more comfortable New Balances from the trunk.  These ordinary folks so dedicated to the preservation of our history and the evangelizing of generations, they sacrifice countless hours, untabulated costs, personal ambitions, and social invitations, just to educate and "entertain" my family and me for an hour or so.  And as much as that sacrifice makes me want to drop an extra donation into the jar the next time we attend (and we definitely will!), it is minuscule compared to that of those who fought and died on this field some two hundred thirty-three years ago.  That, my friends, is what's known as a reality check.    
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