I set my alarm for 5:30am most every morning, but when I did so on Tuesday in Charleston, South Carolina, it was actually 2:30am for the old California-tuned biological clock. But I got up anyway and met a new friend in the hotel lobby for an early morning run. We ran four miles through that beautiful city with its gas lamps, stately mansions, cobblestone streets, peaceful waterfront, and general gorgeous-ness before the sun really even thought about making an appearance. It was great—the run, the conversation, the city, the sights, and the weather.
When we first located the ocean on our run (fyi, those oceans aren’t always as easy to find as you might think), my new friend pointed toward a gleaming set of lights in the distance and said casually, “Oh, there’s Fort Sumter.”
I nearly had to stop running. Fort Sumter. Where the American Civil War began, a fact I taught an unknown number of teenaged history students a few decades and careers ago. I knew Fort Sumter was in Charleston but hadn’t thought about it in the days leading up to this hastily-planned business trip and surely didn’t expect to see it pointed out in casual conversation.
That location, sitting silent in the darkness, is where the citizens of my country chose up sides and literally started killing each other.
Times are a little crazy right now, and I don’t wish to sound overly dramatic, but a professor friend of mine who is an expert on Lincoln has pointed out more than once recently that our current political climate reminds him of the decade leading up to the American Civil War. Surely such a thing couldn’t happen again? Could it?
Not if I have anything to do about it. And I do. We all do.
While Fort Sumter sat silently in the distance, I considered the contrasting metaphor of our morning run where two American brothers ran side by side in the same direction sharing deep thoughts and good stories. That was nice. We did, however, meet people traveling different directions than us, and as we tend to do in the South (and as this Southern boy does wherever I happen to be), we said hello in warm greetings to those traveling in the exact opposite direction. That was nice, too.
Now don’t get me wrong: There is a time and a place to stand in opposition to others. And we should. But there is also a way to treat your brothers and your sisters when you stand in opposition, and when the collective decision concludes that the best way to do so is to pick up weapons and start shooting each other, then something went horribly wrong a long time ago.
Something may have already gone wrong in this country of ours a long time ago. If so, I suggest that we find a way to reverse course before some random runner a couple of centuries from now is jarred by the sight of the place where we once again chose a violent answer.