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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Life (06/15/06)

TITLE: Shiloh's Truth
By Catherine Pollock


What is it about cemeteries that makes you think about your own mortality? What about them makes you approach them so solemnly, so… reverently? Is it regrets for moments wasted? Sadness for tragic losses? Or the echoes of voices, whispers on the wind, that stiffen our spines and bring us near to tears? Maybe it reminds us of those things we don’t want to think about. Things like our lives being just a blip on the radar and that matter what we do to keep ourselves up and running, we all end up in the ground… dead.

I was contemplating all of this yesterday as a friend and I visited Shiloh, Tennessee, the site of the largest mass burial trench of Confederate soldiers in the Civil War and amongst the earliest hints that the Civil War wouldn’t be easily lost or won. We stood in the middle of Shiloh National Cemetery, walked the Sunken Road, and looked out on the Bloody Pond. All of these spots men died or were buried. All of them held their own eerie stillness, made me take pause and evaluate – what is a life worth?

Like many things, Shiloh spawns questions, but no real answers. It leaves you wondering as you follow the interstate home why things happen the way they do, and how you can make things better. The winding roads, narrow and isolated, won’t let you escape from the tragedy, the waste or the carnage. They force you look deep down inside and dredge up a startling truth – that you don’t have the answers to life and you never will on your own. No matter how much you seek to understand, those answers won’t come. Maybe you can write it off as never being capable of knowing what went through the heads of those men in that battle, but maybe not.

So where are the answers, then? Where do we look? How do we decide? Do we even have a say in what the answers are?

Maybe our fatal flaw is in assuming that we, as people, have the ability to find all the answers to all of our questions. Many people are arrogant enough to think that this is the case, so they plod fearlessly through life, thinking they know what they’re doing when the reality is that they can’t do anything at all.

It could also be in the assumption that people can know what life is all about, what the purpose of a life really is and whether or not the purpose of life is universal. There are many who believe they know what that is for every person and every thing on the face of the planet.

Truth is, I realized once we were home again, safe and sound, that the assumptions we make are so wrong, and the one answer that means anything is simple to find. There is only one being who knows all of the answers to all of the questions, who knows what life is and how it fits into the general scheme of things. He answers all of our questions, knows what each of us is here for, and draws out to give our lives the meaning it is supposed to have. For the men who died on April 6 and 7, 1862, living theirs lives meant something we today would never understand.

I guess it’s the same way for us now. Life is a lot of things, I know, but the most important truth I came away with from Shiloh is startling in its simplicity. No matter how hard I look to see what it is, life is simply unexplainable. The more I try to explain it, the more difficult it is to explain. It just… is, and I don’t think I want it to be any other way.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Ruth Neilson06/22/06
Love the opening question, but I can since your struggle to find the answers for the questions. Seems to be almost a devotional piece...
Jan Ackerson 06/23/06
You did a good job of capturing the solemnity of shiloh. Consider re-writing this so that it's all in first person; the second person references are sometimes awkward. A serious and thought-provoking piece.
dub W06/26/06
Yeah, our fatal flaw is belief that we have all the answers. Well written.