This week I reached down and touched the murky water of the Tennessee River. Where I stood, it so happens, was within eyesight of where a fierce tornado had touched down just the night before. But as I stood under the grey sky in this southern town, it wasn’t the weather I was thinking of.
Whenever I travel for work—which is a lot these days—I always try to make time to run. If I’m lucky I run to something. Nothing glamorous or famous. Just something relevant. Like a river, an ocean, a mountain, even an historic site. History and nature are all around us. They lay, I think, humbly and in waiting for us to notice them. History for sure, because history is only there for us when we want it to be.
It must be so, at least on this day, because as I leaned down to touch the river, I knew there was a story in it. But what was it? At that moment it didn’t matter, I was just enjoying being there while standing at its shore.
As I stood there I remembered visiting Gettysburg many years ago. The stories of what took place on that battlefield—gruesome stories—were difficult to hear. But there is one story I’ll never forget. It’s a story about how soldiers from both the Confederate Army and the Union Army, bloodied from the daily battles, some near death, would gather at night on opposite sides of a narrow creek, and they would wash their wounds, at peace with each other.
The place I was standing, it so happens, was part of one of the most critical battlefields of the civil war, the battle of Chattanooga. A battle that claimed more than 12,000 casualties and was the beginning of the end of the confederacy. I wonder, now, how many men could have washed their wounds on the shore where I stood?
Sometimes just touching the water can be relevant.