Tuesday, April 12, 2011

An Extraordinary Occassion

As the sesquicentennial (150th year anniversary) of the Civil War rolls around, I’ve got a lot of people on my back asking me questions. Since I’m a time traveler, and I lived through the war and all its atrocities, people keep asking, “Jenny, why don’t you tell us your stories from the war?” I’m not sure that I fall into a different category than other veterans whom you NEVER question about war, but I guess people remember time traveler before veteran and probably writer first and foremost anyways.

I won’t share much; because the Civil War was graphic, horrific, traumatizing and terribly depressing (just thinking on it makes me glum). It’s kind of like reliving it each time you hear about it or see that damn Ken Burns series on PBS (Why do they haunt me? Haven’t I suffered enough?). And with the anniversary, it’s almost like living it again. Each day parallels to the past, as memories of the war echo like bad dreams from the previous night.

“If it was so horrible, why did you choose to spend time there while traveling?” Well, time travel is part about where a traveler wants to go and where we have to go. As a side note: any stories I tell you about time travel could easily be debunked by contradictory theories on how time and traveling time works. Consider if you will, if one person goes back in time and changes an event, then someone else can go back and someone else can go back and again and again and again like an infinite loop right? Or perhaps time works in a big ball of infinite possibilities so jumping back won’t affect this time “line” (the idea of line is counterintuitive) but establish a new reality. I’m not here to argue with the science behind traveling, but to tell you the policies for time travelers and my own experiences.

So time travelers (scholars and enforcers of history) get to sign up for specific assignments and are sometimes assigned missions when needed. It just so happened that a rouge group of Southern sympathizers decided to jump time and join the South in the hopes of changing history (not exactly what Dale thinks, but close). This typically isn’t allowed (although I have my inklings of when changes have gotten past security) especially on such a grand scale, so an elite force (myself included) were assigned the task of jumping back to the war and stopping these vagabonds.

At this point, I had already done two tours of the Civil War, so I figured it would be a quick and simple mission, find and stop the rogue agents. Unfortunately, this mission meant enduring the full extent of the war, fighting in over 100 engagements and losing a lot of people who over time you easily become close with.

War is hell. I told Sherman that, and then he went on and made the phrase famous.  It’s true, all veterans know it, and all of those who died in battle or from subsequent disease knew it, and especially those who still haunt the death stained ground know this to be true. Why would anyone want to talk about it? Well, we talk about it to remember, to educate and to hopefully not recreate the horrors of war.

War doesn’t end when the last bullet flies; it leaves destruction in its wake that can be felt generations later. When I heard shots ringing out this morning at 4:30am, and I woke up in a cold sweat, I knew it wasn’t some hunting accident or drive by shooting, but the echoes of the past still calling out to me.

“Did you stop the vagabonds?” Well, I guess if you know history, you know the answer to that (although I did have an African American woman aged about 60 years, who had been a teacher for almost 30 years ask me recently who won the Civil War, so you never know).

“Was it worth it, even with all the nightmares?” Yes. I’d say my job protecting history is always worth it, no matter the cost.

“Would you go back again?” Unfortunately I’d have to say yes. Not just for duty, but also because each time you relive history you get to experience the good aspects along with the bad. Seeing the soldiers I knew alive and well again, even while knowing when and how they will die, makes the experience bittersweet (as all aspects of history and the human experience tend to be) but it doesn’t make it unbearable. Experiencing history first hand is the most amazing experience I can imagine, and no amount of nightmares after the fact would make me give that up. Yeah, the memories can be debilitating but more often than not, they feel like a distant dream or a strong imagination playing stories in my head.

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