I don’t have a bucket list, but if I did, visiting Gettysburg would have been pretty close to the top of it.
In 4th grade we were allowed to pick our own books for the big class book report. While my classmates choose books about candy factories, adventurous rodents, magic castles, and outer space, I choose a 300+ page novel following a young boy through his experiences in the Civil War.
Far longer and grittier than any of the other choices, I dove into the narrative. I could smell the gun powder, hear the drums, and feel the bullets whistle by, a breath between life and death.
It was from that moment of opening that book that I wanted to visit the battlefield. Many years pasted and my memory of that 4th grade book report faded. Its descriptive passages joined by the speech in Remember the Titans, the documentaries on the History Channel, and a short lived musical on the Broadway stage. More romantic interpretations of the grit of war to be sure, but still filled with the same level of reverence and respect I knew the place, war, and stories commanded.
One thing I was not prepared for was the actual size of the battlefield. The clusters of so many separate events, so many days, and so many lives. To some this may seem like common sense, of course the footprint of the battle was so large. But even though I knew this to be true, standing atop the hills and looking down was the first time that it actually registered.
Even though the time flew too quickly and the winter light rapidly disappeared long before we reached the end of the maps, I’m glad we went at the end of the day.