We go on a lot of family trips. Short and long. Local and far. Travel is one of my “things.” So is planning the aforementioned travel. I almost get a high out of planning our trips; the timing, the lodging, the activities. And I love it (partly) because I also love making lists. And I love crossing our accomplishments off those lists when we’re done.
My parents also enjoyed travel and gave me the opportunity to see a lot of places, with and without them. I’ve been traveling most of my life. I don’t know why I still plan so much, because almost every incredible travel experience I’ve ever had has been the result of something unplanned and not on any list. This was the case for following experience, now one of my favorite memories.
It was June, 2017. We were driving down to the DC area on a family trip. It was the four of us. Kids in the backseat on devices to pass time. Me “helpfully“ navigating. My husband, God love him, clocking all of the time behind the wheel (like always), even though it was Father’s Day.
My husband is a man that loves to stay on a schedule. Anything that takes him off schedule makes him antsy and uncomfortable. Even without a firm deadline in place, he’s always rushing, striving to hit some invisible or unspoken target that I assume he fears will disappear or become elusive should we run behind.
Mindful of this, as we made our way further south, and started to see signs on the highway, I made the off-hand comment about always wanting to visit Gettysburg. I expected a grunt of acknowledgement in return. Instead, he casually shot back “OK, want to go?” Slightly taken aback, I said “Of course.” And we got off at the exit and went for a short visit.
I love history. But even more, I love historical sites. It fills me with a combination of fascination and poignance to be in a place where hundreds or thousands of years ago people have had experiences and touched and used the things you’re looking at. It’s spooky and thrilling and makes me tingly.
I’m not, like, a big Civil War buff, or a battlefield aficionado. But I had learned and read enough about Gettysburg over the years to know how significant it is. It is rich with individual tales that make up its collective history. And while I understand it’s profundity in American history, I wasn’t expecting it to have the impact that it did that day we dropped in.
When I say the visit was impromptu, I mean so last minute and unplanned that we got there about an hour before the park was shutting down. There was nearly *no one* there. We had the place essentially to ourselves.
The feeling at Gettysburg that day, empty, where thousands of people had given their lives, so many for the sake of the continued union of the country, was beyond moving. It felt haunted. It felt spiritual. It felt sacred. Because it is all of those things. And it showed itself to us fully. It was warm but very windy, and it was as if something whispered at us through the grass as it swayed, and we stood quietly among it and looked out over the fields.
Near the end of our visit we were able to walk up to the observation deck inside the Pennsylvania State Memorial and got a breathtaking view of miles all around. I took time to imagine the horror of everything that took place. Even after all I’ve heard and read about it, it was still nearly impossible to look out over this peaceful place and imagine the bloodshed that once happened there.
But yet it wasn’t impossible. Because the reminders were all around us. We breathed and took it all in. We somberly did our best to pay respects. And then we left. Haunted, but gathered and ready for the next leg of our journey. Forever grateful for the one we just had.