It is about 5:10pm on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, as I’m writing this. I’m listening to and watching a live-stream from a WUSA9 team, which is positioned on the north side of the capital building. Law enforcement officers—I’m not sure exactly who—have started pushing back the crowd around those doors of the capitol building and have moved them to the stairs.
Something has happened to the sound in the newsfeed. The shouting, the voices from the bull-horns has dropped off. Faded. The wind has taken over the microphone, but somehow, the tiny voice of a bird remains. The other sounds have been relegated to the background, probably through a technical error.
In this moment, I think of a journal entry by LeRoy Wiley Gresham, a young teen battling illness and from his home watching regiments form in Georgia:
Sunday, March 31, 1861:
There is no service in our church on account of the absence of Mr. Wills. My leg don’t get any better or any worse; neither does my cough. It is clear and bright and the Mocking birds are singing in the trees…
Monday April 1st 1861:
…5 or 600 troops came on the [rail] cars here today: 1st regiment.
Tuesday April 2 1861:
There is 1000 troops in town today and will leave in a few days for Montgomery, [Ala]…. (Emphasis added)
The birds were singing. In the midst of the rush—then and now.
The sound comes back on the modern news feed. Sirens. Shouts. A shrill fife and drum playing a tune from the 1770s, then something from the 1860s.
I shiver. I can’t time travel. I will not make predictions about the future or draw comparisons in this moment. But as I sit here, listening and alone, I think I have something in common with young LeRoy across the decades. In the midst of a rush and in a violent moment, we both heard birds singing. LeRoy didn’t say how it made him feel. I think he was just noting signs of spring, but he noticed.
War through a window. Serious unrest viewed through a computer screen 160 years later. And yet—thank God—there are still birds that sing, reminding those who will listen that there is a better way than violence.
LeRoy Wiley Gresham, edited by Janet Elizabeth Croon, The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865 (El Dorado Hills: Savas Beatie, 2018), 18.