Jay Winik’s masterfully written book, April 1865, is both insightful and inspiring as it focuses on a single month in our nation’s history; he refers to it as “the month that saved America.” Indeed. It was not just Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox that marked that month in our nation’s memory, nor the brutal assassination of our beloved Abraham Lincoln; rather it was the birth of a new nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Winik says historians agree that “there are dates on which history turns . . . packed with meaning.” For the English it is 1066; for the French, 1789; for Americans, 1492 and 1776. And, he asserts, 1865, April in particular. It is the month our nation was forged in the furnace of drama and devastation.
Astronomers discuss the aligning of planets, and astrologers find personal insights in the same phenomenon. Some have asserted that the bright star that accompanied Jesus’s birth was large and bright because it was caused by an alignment of heavenly bodies, a confluence (if you will) of planets.
There sometimes occurs an alignment of events in our lives, a confluence; what I would like to call a convergence. For my family it is, and always will be from this moment forward, August 24th.
You see, it was August 24th (just last year) that my dear mother passed away in the wee hours of the morning. It was on August 24th (this year) that we held a memorial for my 20 year old niece, Victoria, in Arlington, VA. And it was on August 24th (also, this year) that my long time friend, and fellow musician, Robert, finally succumbed in his brief battle with cancer.
Any one of these events is monumental in it’s own right. Each one is powerful enough to give us pause, to shake us into mental sobriety, to halt us from our normal pursuits, and to push us into deep contemplation.
But when each of these streams merge into one massive river; when the strands entwine and become a formidable cord; when the breezes become united in a gale force wind . . . all on the same day – the result is a numbness that defies description. Receptor overload.
I try, in vain, to make sense of all these events in our family’s life. But I cannot. Not yet. One day, perhaps. But I doubt it. I suspect that August 24 will remain an anomaly in our family’s history. What does one do with such great tragedy? When disappointment is compounded. When the number of things amiss reach a level of incredulity.
I picture a group of men surrounding the body of our beloved President; it is 7:22 AM on April 15, 1865. In my mind’s eye I can see a table where two indefatigable Generals are seated in the McLean house; it is about 4:00 PM on April 9, 1865. And I can also envision a scene centuries ago when a variegated group of Jesus’s followers gathered together in secret, emotionally crushed by the gruesome and utterly disappointing turn of events that threatened to completely annihilate all their hopes and dreams.
Out of each of these trying events the Phoenix rose from its ashes. Apparent horrific endings gave birth to amazingly powerful beginnings. And the world has never been the same since.
I do not know what lies ahead for us. What I do know is that when volatile weather systems collide and converge, funnel clouds begin to twist, descend toward earth, and form a tornado . . . the unspeakable devastation that occurs is sometimes a precursor to an eventual beauty and surpassing glory beyond our wildest dreams.