To Make Them Live Again
“Why are you so interested in history?” Oh, for a dollar for each time I’ve been asked that.
My initial answer went something like this: “I was bitten by the bug when my grandparents took me to an old battlefield close to home.” Later, I changed it to, “The people of the past just seem much more interesting,” but I haven’t used that one for years because it comes off as condescending.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about a better answer. History should be so much more than just the study of dates and places. Many of us have felt the sleep-inducing power of such lectures. Perhaps you’re starting to doze already, so let me get to the point – and if the new answer seems melodramatic, well, I do hope to get a few “AMENS” when we’re done.
In the Old Testament, the 37th chapter of the book of Ezekiel relates a vision of the Valley of Dry Bones. I’ll quote from the King James version, the one used buy the Civil War generation:
1 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of dry bones 2 And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. 3 And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest. 4 Again, he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live.
The vision continued, and the bones did unite. Flesh was regenerated on those skeletons, and the dead breathed and lived again.
Here’s my point: Rhetorically, that is what good history should do. It should restore to life people who have been in their graves for years or even centuries. We do that by reading the words of those long-dead folks.
What were their thoughts as they watched sons and brothers, husbands and fathers, march off to a war from which many of them would not return? What were those soldiers thinking as they left their families? What about the men and women and children in bondage? How did they cope with the war and the freedom that it eventually brought them?
We reanimate those lives by walking the grounds where many of those same men fought and bled and died — grounds that are now, in their own sad way, valleys of dry bones.
About 700,000 American dead wait to have their lives relived through the study of history. If we listen closely, those people can return and teach us not only about themselves and what their generation experienced in that cataclysm 150 years ago, but also some special lessons about ourselves and what we’ve become since those days.
This is why I get excited thinking about the North Carolina Civil War History Center. The stories that it shares with us will be full of passion and drama and will have the spark of life. “Why are you so interested in history?” Because history provides an opportunity to raise that valley of dry bones and make the past come to life.
Can I get any “AMENS” to that?