Learning from Our Losses: Lessons from Antietam

By Ann Darwicki, RN, CPC

This past Fourth of July weekend, I went to the Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, MD, with my children. I must admit I never had much of an appreciation for U.S. history. My thinking was that all history was ancient history, that it had no relevance in my life here and now. However, one of my sons has developed an interest in the subject, and it has helped me to gain a new perspective and see its relevance in today’s time.

As we walked along the ground where this pivotal Civil War battle took place, I learned that it was the single bloodiest day in American history. There were 22,717 casualties on September 17, 1862; they were the aftermath of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia’s first invasion into the North.

While in the past, this would have been “just a number” for me—a statistic with no emotion behind it—I had a very deep response on this trip because one of my sons currently is in the military, and I have never known such fear and helplessness, such concern for his safety. I thought: The casualties at Antietam were the sons of mothers, too. They were fathers and brothers—they were loved and cherished, not nameless, faceless bodies lying dead on a field. They were real people, with families, with lives to live—lives that were cut short by the conflicting beliefs of this time.

This understanding makes my heart heavy, filling me with sadness. As I acknowledge the casualties, I feel the pain from across time. I am able to grasp relevance to recent events that have cut short precious lives; we are still divided in this country by our beliefs and differences. The deaths at Antietam are made even more painful as I understand that we did not learn our lesson from their sacrifices. We are still killing each other over our differences. We are still murdering each other over our beliefs. We still have not learned the most simple lesson—to love each other as we love ourselves. We have not learned that each life is a gift—a gift to be honored, cherished and nurtured.

We have not learned that we can have differing beliefs, opinions, philosophies, and skin colors, while still living together peacefully, loving and supporting each other.

It is easy to blame, point fingers, and feel justified in our opinions, in our “rightness.” I know in my own heart how often I have done (and continue to do) this. I know that as I point a finger at another person, I have three fingers pointing back at me—three fingers urging and prompting me to look within myself. Am I doing the exact same thing that I am blaming or judging another person for doing, maybe in a different way? The answer to my self-inquiry is almost always a reluctant yes.

This is where my opportunity—our opportunity—for growth rests. We must recognize and understand this paradox within ourselves to reconcile our differences with others and become more loving and accepting of all people. Despite our outward differences, we are the same. We are sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. We are loved, we are cherished, and our lives are a unique gift to be valued.

My heart is heavy, but I have hope. I know that what is reported in the news is only a small representation of humankind. I believe that there are far more good people in the world than bad—more people who practice kindness, who give selfless love to others, and who honor and value each other despite differences.

I believe that instead of practicing hate and violence, we all can and will learn how to love.

This is how we can honor the sacrifices that were made by those 22, 717 men at Antietam and all those who have given their lives in the line service, as well as those who have died in past months and recent years from terrorist and other attacks. We have the choice to make them count and learn from our losses.

Ann Darwicki, RN is a Certified Professional Life Coach who completed her training at the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching. She is the owner and founder of Whole Being Coaching, specializing in coaching others to live the life of their dreams. Prior to becoming a life coach, Ann obtained as Associate’s Degree in Nursing from Delaware Technical and Community College. She has 25 years of nursing experience caring for women and children, with a lifelong affinity for holistic medicine. She is a Reiki practitioner and Nurse Luminary. She is also a freelance writer. She can be reached at 302-750-0574 or by email at adarwicki@comcast.net.


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