The vivid image of civil war carnage played out in my mind as I rolled around in the icy mud trying to assess the damage. I finally gave up and told the 911 dispatcher the ankle was too swollen and deformed to tell if bone was poking through or not. I stayed on the phone dutifully for 2 hours as the dispatcher coached my breathing. I was in shock, pre-hypothermic and worse of all facing the severe disappointment of not being able to run again for a long time.
Running gave me a way to rise above it all while living in the Capitol, it was a means to defeat the anxieties and uncertainties. It was part of the Greater Jihad, the jihad waged on one's own personal demons that prevent him or her from transcending. There's never a shortage of personal demons to fight. Complacency, and the feeling that they have been vanquished is just an invitation for them to return en mass. In an instant running was stolen away, and with that, those demons would soon line up to beat down my ramparts. This was a huge defeat.
Omens and bad juju littered the trail from the outset, intimations that venturing deeper into the woods and farther from civilization could be disastrous. Signposts heralded former Civil War artillery emplacements. Slippery patches of mud caused me to break stride several times, forcing me to slog on with morale dipping after each slip up. Then 3 miles from the trail head, an unsettling creature mysteriously emerged on the path, marching my direction with the cold, unflinching confidence of a General commanding soldiers on the battlefield. A wild mustache sat on his lip betraying an unpredictable, fiery temperament and an aura of cold cunning and calculating wisdom. Surely this was a phantom in my own mind. His voice and mannerisms were ghostly remnants of another era, a darker one, a time when humans were bought and sold like farm equipment, and young Americans died in droves on the battlefield, a time when the soul of America was being fought for with the blood of her youth. A war whose death toll reached it's height in the Battle of Antietam September 16, 1862, where 23,000 of our sons died fighting each other. Still the bloodiest single day in American military history.
As he approached, I recoiled, exhaling a quick and polite, "hi, how ya doing today?" The ghostly figure overlooked the trail etiquette, and instead peered directly into my soul, speaking with authority and premonition, "gettin' a bit of a late start aren't we?" I struggled with the implications of the words, but persevered up the trail as it weaved away from the river. The encounter was weighing on me. Mist continued to pour upwards from the Occoquan like an upside down spigot.
General Beauregard barked orders as gunpowder exploded around him and muskets and cannons ripped apart flesh. His left flank was threatened by advancing Union soldiers. He rode out among his men, brandishing regimental colors, and giving inspirational speeches, infusing fearful young boys with courage, and wielding their eager and malleable youth against the fierce onslaught of muskets, bayonets and cannons from the North. Beauregard was a battle hardened veteran of the Mexican-American war and was instrumental in the Confederate Army taking Fort Sumter in the first military strike of the American Civil War. He now led the Confederates along with General Johnston in the Battle of Bull Run.
Under his command that day, the Confederate line held up against the onslaught from the North. A counterattack succeeded in routing the Union Army, forcing them to flee in disorder toward Washington. Beauregard was promoted from Brigadier General to full General as a result. Five thousand American casualties were littered across the battle field in the aftermath, and the North's hope for an early end to the war were grounded. The blood letting would grind on for four more years.
A strange sense of peace and calm came over me as I waited for rescue on the battlefield. Night was fast approaching. The DC area was experiencing an unusually cold winter that year and these long trail runs were the front lines of my own internal struggles. I had been gaining the upper hand, but on this day, disregard for the sanctity of the Bull Run battlefield left me a casualty. I awaited the arrival of the emergency team in silent reverence and acceptance, taking it all in, reflecting on the cold, hard lessons of defeat. (to be continued)