Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Musings on a Small Piece of Lead

The following consists of some "stream-of-consciousness" thoughts that went through my mind recently.I did edit it a little bit for some clarity in places, but it remains true to the basic thoughts I had that evening.

This small minie ball, just under 1 inch in length and 1 ounce in weight certainly does not look  like much - a small piece of metal, deformed by contact with a rock, tree, log or some other such object. Perhaps just the ground caused it to change from its former caliber. Was it a .58 or a .577 or something else? I do not know, cannot know.

It is not pretty, nor beautiful, nor does it inspire any words of poetry or an ode to some magnificence. In fact, it appears rather ugly and dirty and it makes one wonder why anybody would want to keep such an item. Just an old, beat up piece of dirty, ill-shapen lead.

On the other hand, when I hold it, look at it, look at it closely and think about why its shape changed, why it looks as it does and how that deformation came about I start to realize one thing - in all probability this little piece of lead was used to try to kill another human being.

To kill another human being. 

Now, I realize that it is conceivable this was used in target practice, or for hunting or maybe who knows how many other reasons, but even if so, the others I have and hold and gaze at - well, how many of them were used in battle? Or maybe in a military execution? Or some raid or surprise attack?

A small, unattractive, seemingly innocent hunk of lead, yet it may have been used to try to kill another human. And now I sit here, holding it in my hand, looking over its rough edges from where pieces are missing or bent as though it were a simple rock or a stick or a dirt clod, treating it as something worthy of preserving and something I'm happy to own.

How should I feel? Should I even think about it like that? After all, tens, or hundreds, of thousands of such relics exist today, in the hands of collectors, sellers, museums or others interested in the Civil War. Mine is hardly the only "minie" that may have been an intended killer. After all, it was war, and as the cliche goes, "war means fighting and fighting means killing." These were not invented, patented and manufactured to be mementos on a bookshelf or relics in a display case, after all.

What are the implications of owning something like this? Of holding it? Of thinking about it in this way? Of thinking of the many that lost their arms, legs, lives due to bits of lead just like mine? Are there any implications? Does it matter?

Am I giving too much thought to this relatively tiny, misshapen object? Are all my questions just a waste of time and thought? 

Despite these doubts, these questions, I cannot help but realize - this is not "just a piece of lead." It is a bullet - a used bullet, apparently fired from a gun, likely for the sole purpose of killing or maiming another man. And now I hold it and think and look and wonder in the peace and quiet and comfort of my home. I find myself pausing, pondering...

Just a small piece of lead?

picture courtesy Library of Congress and, perhaps, small pieces of lead


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