Illumination

When we pulled into Gettysburg, we passed a restaurant called Li’s Chinese Buffet. I had just woken up from my nap, and I idly wondered if General Lee had changed the spelling of his surname to go into the food industry. I had a brief mental image of Robert E. with his silver hair and gray uniform, in the midst of sizzling woks and steaming dumplings, issuing commands to the kitchen staff in Southern-accented Cantonese.

I was in town to take part in the 10th Annual Remembrance Illumination. My job was to place candles on the graves of the Union soldiers who had been killed in the battle of Gettysburg. It was a sign of respect, to show that that though they may be gone, they are not forgotten.

In the center of town there were multitudes of people turned out to watch a big parade. Soldiers tramped by, Abe Lincolns waved, and Ulysses S. Grant chomped his cigar as he rode by on a big horse. I had heard earlier that Steven Spielberg, the famous director, would be in town on Monday to deliver the keynote speech at a ceremony marking the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. I was hoping that the notable cinematographer would be there on Saturday, even though it was a few days early. I wanted him to see me there and pluck me from obscurity by making me a screenwriter. It didn’t happen. If Spielberg was there, I didn’t recognize him, because I don’t even know what he looks like.

(By the way, I served in the Civil War myself. I fought with distinction at my school’s reenactment of the battle of Chancellorsville in the seventh grade. I wanted to wear my old forage cap to Gettysburg to see if I could get free meals due to my being a veteran and all, but as it turns out, my head is so swollen and lumpy with brains, the kepi no longer fits comfortably.)

The signs at the cemetery called for silence and respect. The other volunteers and I reverently placed the candles in their wooden holders, before putting them inside paper bags. One for each grave. Then we lit them, and they shone forth. I stepped back to view the small forest of glowing, orange lanterns. Some people thought they looked like the souls of those who had died at Gettysburg. I don’t know about that, but I thought it was haunting and beautiful and a fitting tribute.

As I left, passing by the spirits of fallen soldiers, I heard a bugler in the distance play “Taps.”

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One Response to Illumination

  1. Jess says:

    What a beautiful sight. And great descriptions.

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