Sunday, June 17, 2012


Today is not one of my best days, but I felt the need to write after an interesting idea struck me in the middle of mass yesterday while Fr. Christopher gave his lecture.  I don't know why the historian in me breathes again, or how it started to breathe in the first place.  I think initially it was the tactile inclination towards holding a worn down, smooth historical item like the 19th century nun's crucifix I received as a present prior to entering the convent.  Or how much I was moved in the 8th grade when we watched the movie "Glory" in our homeroom class.  Anyway, I wanted to buy for sometime a WWI bullet shrine from Etsy or eBay because of religious motivations, and partly historical interest.  I can't afford most of them.  Even $20 is a lot to spend these days when we need to focus on getting the essentials to live with what the bankruptcy court allows us to retain from the paycheck.
Anyway, I was sitting there at mass, holding my belovedly worn, early 1900 French rosary crucifix during mass, and I thought as father spoke about leading a good and holy life about those who have lived before us, in the not-so-distant past, who prayerfully wore down this crucifix I now treasure.  From what I had and gave away, to images on Etsy and eBay, I wonder about the personal prayer lives of the people who used these sacramentals...about what they talked to God about, what their relationship was with him.  The silent lives of the unspoken saints: the mother who prayed the rosary on her knees in the kitchen while her son fought in the trenches in WWI; the soldier whose fear of death brought him closer to his faith as he held and prayed with the small ebony crucifix his grandmother gave him before he left to serve his country...  Stories passed down from families, journals, letters, and a scattering of 'relics': the bullet shrines, the crosses, the rosaries that were preserved by loved ones - it's all we have left to know of these unknown saints who silently carried the torch of faith during the tumultuous times of the past century.

I always felt it a great shame that my history professors in university never wanted to go into detail about the first World War.  I think an explanation along the lines of "it would only confuse you to go over it in detail in relation to WWII" was used with much wear.  At the time, as a student, you don't want confusion - you want facts, and although a true student wants to learn at all times, you mostly focus on passing your classes with good grades.  Sorry, I digress.  At any rate, my thought was to begin researching what I could and to write about these articles - the crucifixes and so forth, the underground chapels - even the people in so far as I could that lived through "the war to end all wars."  I can't say I don't know where to start or how to do it - I graduated with a BA in History.  It's a matter of how much I'm devoted to the subject.  I spent three or four years as a Civil War reenactor (woman soldier) in the 26th North Carolina regiment, G company of the Washington Civil War Association.  My thesis paper was on women soldiers of the American Civil War.  But my interest and activity came to a quick and sudden end when my asthma worsened and I couldn't be around black powder smoke, which incidentally developed not long after the visit I made to Gettysburg, PA to the battlefields of 1863.  I never expected the atmosphere to be one of overwhelming trauma; it was one thing to study or peruse the museums, but to be on the battlefield, having just watched the Cyclorama presentation of the Battle of Gettysburg at the National Museum - it was all way too much to handle.  I had traveled to Gettysburg with a friend from Philadelphia who I was visiting.  After the 'live battle' presentation, I was in a state of shock and quite withdrawn, making very poor company for my traveling companion.  So what's stopping me from researching this interest in WWI history?  I don't want to be traumatized again.  Chances are 1000 to 1 of me ever visiting France or touring the old Siegfried Line, but it's really hard to keep your personal distance when you have a handicap like I have: panic disorder. 

I keep looking at my crucifix, thinking I should at least write a magazine article or something.  I'm not one of the novel types, who settle for the "Red Badge of Courage" speculation of what it must have been like.  I want reality.  But sometimes reality bites.  I even found myself wondering today if I should take my brother's advice and go back to university and get my Master's degree.  I like reading history, I like researching, I like writing on history, but the old Irish saying is right: there's no future in the past.  And so far, from all the prayer and signs, it definitely looks like the right thing to peruse my certification as a Medical Receptionist at Bellingham Technical College.  But I guess it wouldn't hurt to write on the side, would it?  To keep the inner historian in me breathing and my mind focused that the world is a much bigger place than just where I live?

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