Happiness Highlights: Gettysburg

As I sit down to write this, I am not in a happy mood. We’re parked steps away from a gorgeous beach on Long Island, but I’m afraid I won’t get the opportunity to enjoy the cool waters or hot sand as I work to get everything done before I head to San Diego for BlogHer on Wednesday. Earlier this afternoon we found the local grocery store and picked up two cans of black beans and a package of Ramen noodles – lunch and dinner for the remainder of the month. We’re at the end of our monthly budget and have spent every dime of our food dollars, a fact that makes me feel both scared and resentful, although I’m not sure of whom.

But these happiness highlights are important to me. They’re a crucial part of maintaining on overall attitude of happiness, and so, here we go…

Gettysburg093 We went to Gettysburg last week. I’ve been a little obsessed with learning about the Civil War over the last two months, and I was prepared for an intense experience at the sight of our country’s bloodiest battle. We picked up a CD in the gift shop of the visitors’ center to help guide us through the auto tour, and headed out into the Pennsylvania countryside.

It was… interesting. I felt like it was interesting because I was so familiar with the three days of fighting that would become known as “Gettysburg”, but I struggled to relay that significance to the rest of my family. All these years later, what’s left is miles and miles of hay fields and rocky hills strewn with memorials of various shapes and sizes. Old artillery resembling miniature cannons dot the hilltops, pointed at what would have been enemy lines 150 years ago. But again, unless you know the story, it’s as interesting as any outdoor museum to war in general would be. After four hours of retracing the footsteps of both the North and the South, we pulled into the parking lot of the Gettysburg National Cemetery to finish the tour.

Gettysburg144 We were met first by rows and rows of uniform tombstones marking the final resting place of veterans of World Wars I and II. It was sobering, but not what I expected.

We walked a little further down a paved path.

Gettysburg177

Gettysburg169

Gettysburg172And there I wept.

I wept at the slow realization that this was the ground in which Civil War veterans were buried, and at the sudden realization that these numbers marked graves.

No name. No “unknown”. No sufficient space between square marble blocks to allow for a coffin of any respectable size. My eyes watered and my soul sobbed for these boys who died in the name of a country divided, these boys who could not be honored at death with the names their mothers had given them at birth.

And what, you may ask, does this have to do with happiness?

I was most alive this week standing in that solemn graveyard. I was alive with grief, connected to a past that is very much mine, connected to the family of Humanity in a way we rarely are during day to day life. I was grateful. I was humbled. I was momentarily saddened and forever changed.

And that might not be joy, but it is, I think, a kind of happiness.

It’s also a good reminder to quit feeling pissy about stuff like money and beans.

Update: It’s officially August and we did not starve! And I got to spend yesterday at that beautiful beach. I even got to enjoy it with a friend. In other words, all that stress over temporary circumstances was for naught. Of course it was.

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