Elizabeth’s Story

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One of the things I love about studying Civil War history on purpose is learning more about the people who lived during these events. Not just the generals and famous spies or politicians, but everyday people whose lives were forever changed because of a battle.

Last summer in Gettysburg I heard the story of a girl named Elizabeth. She was a teenager during the battle of Gettysburg. Though she didn’t die during the battle like Jennie Wade, the guide who told us her story considered her to be a casualty of the battle just the same.

When war went to Gettysburg during the summer of 1863, Elizabeth’s parents took their family and fled to a farm south of the town. The move was especially hard on Elizabeth, who had a heart condition.

However, in the days and weeks leading up to the battle, Elizabeth’s condition was slowly getting worse and she was becoming more of a burden on her family. During the stress of the battle and its aftermath, her parents quietly made the decision to let nature take its course with their daughter.

Unfortunately for her parents, Elizabeth was old enough to understand what was going on. She didn’t make a big fuss with her parents, but quietly confided to her brother that she was furious with their parents. She also insisted that she would never forgive them for just letting her go.

The story of Elizabeth concludes with her death, roughly ten days after the battle of Gettysburg. She was buried quietly in a local cemetery, and this should be the end of her tale.

But is it? I haven’t found much to back up the story we were told on that tour. I’ve done some research but it’s hard to find information when you only have a first name and a rough guess as to when a person passed away. I know what cemetery they said she was buried in, but I don’t know if her grave is marked.

What I can tell you is that if the story of Elizabeth is true, then I saw her. Twice. In the woods near East Cemetery Hill, almost 150 years after she died.  

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Breaking Free

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I moved home from Arizona a little over two years ago. I was so homesick in Phoenix that I couldn’t wait to get home and pick up my old life right where I left off. Lucky for me, this turned out to be impossible.

One of the first things I did when I got home was visit my old church. I had not always been happy there, but I did miss the people. To my shock and dismay, I realized my second week back that I couldn’t stay there anymore. I couldn’t explain it at the time, but I felt like I was suffocating in the building. A voice in my head was telling me to “get the HELL out” of that place.

I didn’t understand it, but I had learned to trust my instincts so I left. It was really hard at first! Most of my social life before I moved revolved around people there, and I was afraid to lose my friends. I thought I was going nuts for feeling like I needed to leave the place.

For about a year I struggled with my decision to leave. I knew it was the right thing to do, but I didn’t know WHY. It was really hard to explain to people when they asked me why I left because I didn’t have an answer for myself or anyone else.

As time passes, I’m learning why I had to leave. I’ve talked to others who left, and I realize that we were all feeling the same things but didn’t feel like we could really tell each other at the time. For me, I see now that I was trying to fit myself in to a place and a culture that I didn’t belong in. There’s been incredible freedom in discovering that I don’t WANT to belong there anymore.

Around Christmas time, a friend’s blog gave me the words to explain why I’ve left my old life behind and started to create a new one. In her post, Emma talks about leaving her past behind and forging the future she wants for herself. One of the things that inspired her in her journey is the song “Let It Go” from Frozen. I have not seen the movie, but I love music so I took advantage of the video Emma included in her blog post. (If you want to read Emma’s post for yourself it’s here: http://emmalinerose1863.blogspot.com/2013/12/let-it-go_17.html Actually, you want to read it. You really do. Go read it! Seriously.)

I fell in love with the song, so I decided to buy the soundtrack. No, I still haven’t seen the movie but the soundtrack was on sale. I listened to “Let It Go” several times, and then discovered that there was a pop single version of the song as well. I’m usually not a fan of the pop versions of the songs from Disney movies, but I decided to give it a chance.

There’s a few places where the lyrics are different between the two versions, and one set of lyrics in the pop version stopped me in my tracks.

“It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small.

And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all.

Up here in the cold thin air, I finally can breathe.

I know I left a life behind but I’m too relieved to grieve.” 

This is me!! When I realized I needed to leave some of my old life behind, I was so afraid to really walk away from it that I almost caved and went back. I would have been welcomed back with open arms, but by people who would never really know me as ME. I would have fallen back into the old pattern of trying to be someone I’m not. I don’t ever want to go back to that prison.

I can honestly say I don’t miss the old Jen. I don’t miss feeling like I have to perform or jump through a set of hoops to barely be acceptable. Have I lost contact with people I thought were friends since I’ve turned my back on much of my old life? Sure. But many of the people in that life wouldn’t like me now and that’s okay. 

I don’t have it all together and I won’t claim to. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know if I will ever really make it as a writer. I can’t figure out why my cats are nauseated by the smell of a clean house. I’m completely switching cell phone operating systems and I don’t know how to use android. I need classes to figure out Windows 8.

None of these are huge life issues. I know this. But even in the huge life issues, there’s freedom in learning who I am and how to be that person.