I gathered with a few friends in Gettysburg on Saturday morning then went to the battlefield on my own afterward.
I'd planned to spend time on the McPherson farm property but instead found myself on the eastern edge of Reynolds Woods again. At the beginning of my visit, I saw a Gettysburg Foundation volunteer raking leaves and tidying up the open space between the large trees from the Reynolds monument eastward to the road. At the end, I had the opportunity to eavesdrop on a tour guide's presentation.
He was talking about Reynolds' fatal mistake. As he ordered the 2nd Wisconsin into the woods to flush out the Confederates there, Reynolds turned to look behind him - eastward - to bark out more orders. At that moment, when he wasn't looking ahead, he was struck in the back of the head. The wound would prove fatal. If Reynolds had kept his eyes forward, instead of turning around while riding tall in the saddle, he might have lived through that day.
Looking back isn't fatal for me but the thought of that backward glance -- no matter how fleeting -- can turn fatal, stayed with me.
The guide pointed out the three witness trees there, too. All three are sturdy white oaks of wide girth, tall stature, and broad reach. He planted a small American flag at the base of each, to mark them for his tours to reference.
I spent a surprising (for me) amount of time wandering within Reynolds Woods, noting the tiny flowers hugging the ground but turning their colors toward the sun, and noting the dead leaves still clinging to a few branches as new buds formed around them.
How many times do we look backward to dwell on what's already happened instead of looking forward to what we can do to change today, to what we can do to make space for a more satisfying tomorrow? How many times have I clung to the shriveled, dried leaves of old wounds instead of looking for opportunities for new growth?
And who are our witnesses? Who are the people close to us who will remind us what we've sworn to do for ourselves whether that means writing, photographing, playing music -- whatever it is we want to do so badly that we hurt when a day goes by that we haven't been able to take some tiny step toward it?
I have to ask myself, too, how many times I've delayed my creative endeavors because I'm worried about what's going on behind me instead of paying attention to what's in front of me, to what I want to do right now but am, maybe, afraid to do because -- heaven forbid -- it might not be exactly what I envision.
Those are my questions for myself, and are intended only to help me keep myself on track. What are your questions? What helps you stay focused?