road_0096_chamberlain.jpgWhen I signed up to be a chaperon for my daughter’s fifth grade field trip this past Monday, I assumed I was volunteering a couple of hours of my time.

The week before the trip, I finally sat down and read the field trip slip my daughter had me sign when I was distracted doing work in my home office. The trip was to Gettysburg, PA, about two and a half hours away; and the return time was 7 pm. Yikes!

“Would the bus have WiFi?” I thought to myself. I can bring my laptop and do any work that needed done given the short Thanksgiving week. Another student’s mom I spoke with thought not, but she was hoping there were outlets on the bus so she could plug in her phone and stay connected to work.

I could do that too. I was finally able to convince myself that my career would not come to an end because of a field trip. But around this time, I got an email from an editor saying PBS’s Need To Know website was planning on running an oped I had written about airport security workers and would probably contact me on Monday to edit the piece.

Are you kidding me? I was going to be on a bus with 30 kids heading to a Civil War battlefield on a bus that maybe had an outlet if I was lucky.

Well, there were no outlets, no WiFi, but it did have a very stinky bathroom. Things went from bad to worse when on the bus trip I got an email from my editor at MSNBC.com saying he wanted me to do a big airport security story. I had told him I would be out on the field trip but he forgot.

My phone started to die around the time we were heading to Devil’s Den, the site of some of the most intense fighting during the Gettysburg battle, and I realized whether I liked it or not there was nothing I could but accept that some things would go by the wayside today.

When I finally let work go, I could sense my daughter, and the four boys I was chaperoning, all seemed to relax. Kids pick up on adult stress. A recent study released by American Psychological Association’s found that kids feel our stress no matter how we try to hide it.

“Parents underestimate the impact their stress has on the family as a whole, which could have far deeper health implications then they realize,” the researchers found.

* More than two-thirds (69 percent) of parents of teens and tweens say that their stress has slight or no impact on their children, yet only 14 percent of children report that their parent’s stress does not bother them.
* In addition, one-third of children (34 percent) say they know their parent is worried or stressed out when they yell.

I admit, I do yell sometimes, and need to rethink my own stress level.

But I didn’t yell at any point during the field trip. At some point, even the most stressed out working parent would be forced to sit back and take a breather when walking among the thousands of men who died at Gettysburg, and sensing the sad ghosts all around you.

The tour guide told us that on one field there were so many fallen soldiers from both sides that you could walk for long stretches without stepping on the ground. The smoke from the gunpowder, he said, was red with blood.

There I was, the week of Thanksgiving with my incredible daughter, in a sacred place that embodies the struggles this nation has gone through and survived. We stood where President Lincoln stood when he gave the Gettysburg address.

How lucky I was to be there.

I’ll end with my favorite passage from “The Killer Angels,” a Civil War novel by Michael Shaara, when he’s talking what motivated Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a Colonel for the Union side (He’s pictured above.):

He walked slowly toward the dark grove. He had a complicated brain and there were things going on back there from time to time that he only dimly understood, so he relied on his instincts, but he was learning all the time. The faith itself was simple: he believed in the dignity of man.

His ancestors were Huguenots, refugees of a chained and bloody Europe. He had learned their stories in the cradle.

He had grown up believing in America and the individual and it was a stronger faith than his faith in God. This was the land where no man had to bow. In this place at last a man could stand up free of the past, free of tradition and blood ties and the curse of royalty and become what he wished to become. This was the first place on earth where the man mattered more than the state. True freedom had begun here and it would spread eventually over all the earth.

But it had begun here. The fact of slavery upon this incredibly beautiful new clean earth was appalling, but more even than that was the horror of old Europe, the curse of nobility, which the South was transplanting to new soil.

They were forming a new aristocracy, a new breed of glittering men, and Chamberlain had come to crush it. But he was fighting for the dignity of man and in that way he was fighting for himself. If men were equal in America, all these former Poles and English and Czechs and blacks, then they were equal everywhere, and there was really no such thing as foreigner; there were only free men and slaves.

And so it was not even patriotism but a new faith. The Frenchman may fight for France, but the American fights for mankind, for freedom; for the people, not the land.

Have a great, relaxing, family-focused Thanksgiving my friends.

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