My Civil War

Robert E. Lee signing the surrender documents at Appomattox Court House. Photo by Frank Kovalchek/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

Robert E. Lee signing the surrender documents at Appomattox Court House. Photo by Frank Kovalchek/Flickr.

My father died last month, right after my first novel was published. He was 95, was married to my mother for 71 years, and lived an extraordinary life of accomplishment in business, art, sports and philanthropy.

We clashed my entire life. In his last years, I avoided him or kept him at a safe distance.

Right about now you may be asking, what does any of this have to do with a blog about A House United and healing from the Civil War? I’ve often asked myself questions like why I, then a boy of six, would stare for hours at Matthew Brady’s black and white photographs of other boys staring into the sky through sightless eyes. Or, when in my dreams and daydreams where I would be transported into the war much like Rufus Dewes, the young reporter in my book, was I a Yankee fighting for unity, a Confederate rebelling against tyrannical authority, or yet again a lowly slave yearning for emancipation?

The truth is, I was all of them.

It was in writing the book that I began to glimpse the parallels between our Civil War and my civil war. These parallels were not rooted in similar causes or specific disagreements. But like North and South, my father and I were never able to connect, never found the way to agree to disagree. And like North and South, we always had Right on our side.

A lot of good it did us. We both lost.

Writing the story of Harriman Hickenlooper’s march presented me with the opportunity to answer the question: what does it take to heal? The answer was to find my own one-man peace march, that thing I had to do because the story I was writing was all about the right thing to do. It was through the fifteen years of writing this book that my dreams of fostering dialogue, encouraging understanding, bridging divisions, feeling our nation’s hurt and finding the compassion to move beyond it to a place we have yet to find, but yearn for deep in our hearts – a house united – found a voice. Such dreams never came close to fruition in the house in which my father and I lived.

My father died last month. How do I make peace with his and my tragic history? Perhaps in simply embracing this truth – my road to Appomattox, to my own cease-fire, is finally clear.

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About Antonio Elmaleh

Author of The Ones They Left Behind. A Civil War veteran, on a mission of peace and healing, attempts to re-create Sherman's March. Based on a true story.
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