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Lost in thought

I spend no money at all to subscribe to the RSS feed at What is Shorpy? It's a website that posts various old pictures. They call themselves the 100-year-old photo blog. I love it.

I want you to click this link and look at this picture and then come back: Pic of Old Soldiers at Gettysburg Reunion

(I can't find an embed code and don't want to break their copyright to copy and paste it.)

This picture came across on Veteran's Day, 11/11/11, and it just kind of stopped me. Pictures are worth a thousand words, they say, and with this pic I think that's short a few thousand.

Here a man sits, some 50 years after a battle, and he's writing a letter. Behind him are others from that same battle. They sit, outdoors, beside the tents they are apparently staying in, in hard wooden chairs.

I wonder about this man. What else did he see from July of 1863 until 1865? Who did he lose in the war? How has peace been for him?

What does this man who likely walked to war, walked through the war, and walked home when it was done think of the cars in the streets? The electric lights?

How does he feel about the changes in society? That there are no slaves but that equality is elusive to many? That women are agitating for the vote in those years?

Does he read the news out of Europe and worry about the future?How will he feel in the next few years about the Great War?

I wonder. Apart from context, he looks like a Grandpa. One of those Grandpas that sternly tells something, but whose eyes twinkle at moments. Who tells you to not spoil dinner and then sneaks you a piece of candy.

He sits alone, but you can see he's writing a letter. To whom? I don't have graphics power enough to read his writing. Seems like it would be wrong anyway. What does he say? After 50 years, is he writing about forgiveness? Is he writing his friend whose war wounds kept him from traveling? His friend that never came back? His grandchildren? Telling them that war and hard times come, but they go, and the pain is shared by many.

If you look at the caption, you see that it's a joint reunion of the Great Army of the Republic and of the Confederate Army. Other sources show this happened, and that especially by the 1900s when this picture is taken, there was little animosity between the groups. There was simply the remembrance of shared time and misery and victory and loss.

Then, if you look closely, you'll see his badge shows him as a veteran of Virginia. How does he feel? He fought on the losing side. Yet in the end, life turned out alright. Does he note that Billy Yank isn't near as bad as he once was? Does he reflect on how the world is better without the slavery?

He looks tired but not bitter---worn but not defeated.

I wonder what his name is, what his story is—whether he knew what good had come from his life, his legacy…

I see this, though: certain things are worth fighting for (ending slavery certainly makes that list), but when the war is over, find your common ground. Rebuild your lives and share the world with all you can. God has not limited the grace He bestows upon us, and let us be certain to pass as much on to others as they need. Grace is something that you'll never run out of just by sharing.


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