Peaceful. Scenic. Picturesque.
Those are the words that cross my mind as I gaze at this photo I took recently.
An idyllic late summer day in beautiful countryside. A stately oak shade tree to pause beneath for a bit of rest. A time-worn but lovely farmstead surrounded by rustic log fencing providing a scenic view.
All of that captured with just one click of the camera.
Viewing that photo invokes feelings of blissful peace. That all is right with the world. No turmoil. No bickering. No troubles.
A kind of peace in the valley.
No sorrow. No sadness. No headaches. No heartaches. No confusion.
But looks can be so deceiving, can’t they? And they can mask what lies beneath.
This occurs to me as I think about those I know who are experiencing difficult times. Losses beyond belief. Turmoil and confusion. Sadness and grief. Yet, you wouldn’t know it from their outward appearances.
They put on a façade. A happy face. A smile and words spoken with a lilt to hide their pain.
They assure everyone that they are ‘just fine, thanks for asking.’ But inwardly, overwhelming emotions rise up threatening to destroy them. How many of us stifle our true feelings down inside? How many of us don’t expose what lies beneath the surface of our smiles?
Recently, we spent a few days away from home. We journeyed to an area of our state where there are verdant rolling hills, farm fields, and plenty of historical places of interest.
Yet this place once was a scene of massive destruction – not so much of property, but of human lives. Over 7,000 men lost their lives in this one place. Another 33,000+ were wounded and almost 11,000 were listed as missing. All told, 51,000 casualties.
It was the scene of the bloodiest and most gruesome battle ever fought on American soil all occurring in the heat and humidity during three days in July in the Pennsylvania countryside over 150 years ago. The agony and suffering which occurred there is unimaginable.
This place is Gettysburg.
Today there is peace in that valley again. The battle scarred land is well-healed over after a century and a half. The only remnants of that fierce combat that remain are the massive monuments, which mark the spots where troops fought and fell, scattered across the 24-mile long battlefield driving tour.
And there are graves. Hundreds of graves, some marked, some only categorized by numbers.
Touring the battlefield, it’s hard to imagine the savagery that took place in this idyllic countryside. It’s difficult to imagine the bloodshed, the almost inhuman cries of war, and the moans of death when everywhere you look, you see the loveliest landscape.
And this is where I took that beautiful photo above these words. Tranquil scenery that masks what lies beneath the ground – the tragic loss of so many lives in this place. A time in history which practically tore our nation apart at the seams.
What lies beneath that hallowed ground is the horror of war. The tragedy of brother fighting brother, friend against friend, fellow countryman against fellow countryman. The American Civil War.
I’ve visited this place called Gettysburg in the past, touring the battlefield, reading the historical facts. But this time, something welled up inside of me like never before. The Battle of Gettysburg became more real, not just a story in a history book.
What lies beneath this picturesque scenery touched my heart and soul. The pain and anguish of a war among ourselves, American against American, rose from beneath the surface and gave me much pause to think.
I pray we never experience such a time ever again.
And yet, aren’t we waging a kind of civil war again today? Attempting to destroy one another, not with muskets and cannon fire, but with vitriolic rhetoric just because we don’t agree with one another’s viewpoint, or politics, or religious beliefs?
We fire vehement words to our ‘foes’ that surely pierce the soul and wound the heart. What lies beneath this modern civil war? Hatred? Anger? Fear? All powerful weapons of destruction.
It seems to me as a follower of Christ, that I should pray for those who hide their burdens deep inside – beneath the surface. The walking wounded are among us, sometimes carrying their burdens in silence, but just as often lashing out at those who don’t agree with them with vehemence.
Just as the many homes and businesses of Gettysburg became field hospitals for the casualties of the great battle fought there, our churches should be a balm for the wounded, the broken, the hurting.
“Church isn’t a museum for good people, it’s a hospital for the broken.” ~ Unknown
When we come together brother to brother, sister to sister, to help, encourage, and shoulder the load the weary and burdened carry, just as I see happening in Texas and Florida after the vicious hurricanes laid paths of destruction, instead of battling each other, that’s when we heal our land.
For me, that’s what it means to be an American.
“What we see often is only a fractional part of what it really is.” ~ Unknown