Bonfires in darkness
History records for us an interesting footnote. It was during the dark winter of 1864. At Petersburg, Virginia, the Confederate Army of Robert E. Lee faced the Union divisions of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. The war was now 3 ½ years old and the glorious charge had long since given way to the muck and mud of trench warfare. Late one evening one of Lee’s generals, Maj. Gen. George Pickett, received word that his wife had given birth to a beautiful baby boy. Up and down the line, the southerners began building huge bonfires in celebration of the event. These fires did not go unnoticed in the northern camps and soon a nervous Grant sent out a reconnaissance patrol to see what was going on. The scouts returned with the message that Pickett had had a son and these were celebratory fires. It so happened that Grant and Pickett had been contemporaries at West Point and knew one another well, so to honor the occasion, Grant too ordered that bonfires should be built.
What a peculiar night it was. For miles on both sides of the lines fires burned. No shots fired. No yelling back and forth. No war fought. Only light celebrating the birth of a child. But it didn’t last forever. Soon the fires burned down and once again, the darkness took over. The darkness of the night and the darkness of war.
How can we keep the bonfires burning lighting up the darkness? Exciting achievements and accomplishments excite and encourages us so the light around is bright in celebration. Then, some discouragement comes along, and darkness descends as the fire dims. Differing sides come together and then depart.
There are so many things that are worthy to keep the celebratory fires burning. Unity in medical research to fight a pandemic, factions laying down their differences to seek common good, historical flight to Mars for the world to celebrate, tales of sacrifice and goodness from those who have much to others who have little, new inroads of equality and fairness for all, and fires continue to multiply.
Yes, the darkness is there if we let the fires burn down in discouragement. It will always be there for there is many more challenges. Each of us has a match to light up the darkness. It starts with one and then others will join us.
But listen closely; you will hear the cry of a newborn baby named Life, not Death. Let the fires burn bright for it is worthy of celebration.
By Retired Chaplain (Brig. Gen.) Ray Bailey
Former Deputy Chief of Chaplains