My small town has been invaded by thousands of men dressed as Civil War soldiers. I have to admit, I find the phenomenon a little baffling. Why do grown men want to wear wool pants and coats and then lay on the ground, under the hot sun, pretending they aren’t alive? I get that they’re interested in history, but the urge to dress up as one of many suffering soldiers doesn’t resonate at all.
Tuesday night, while the reenactors cooked their coffee and beans over campfires, I watched the movie Kumare. A documentary about faith, Kumare follows an American masquerading as a guru from India, gathering followers and learning about spirituality while he lives a lie. It’s funny, thought-provoking, and I highly recommend it. The subject of the film is able to convince intelligent people he is a guru in part because of his attire. In fact, by changing his clothes and growing his hair long, he manages to step so far out of his normal life that he discovers a new side of himself and a new way to connect with others.
Maybe those Civil War reenactors are doing something right. By dressing the part, they can become their heroes, people who were part of a transformative moment of American history, who risked their own lives to protect their families, their homes, and ideals.* Maybe they’re learning something about fortitude, brotherhood or their insignificance in the face of larger forces—political, natural, or even modern ones, like the hordes of camera-happy tourists who’ve also arrived in town.
There’s no question that costumes have power to change who we are and how we see the world.
Lately, I’ve been wearing torn cargo shorts from the late nineties and even older T-shirts. I’ve given myself permission to indulge in all the nail biting I desire. I’m trying to sort out the health problems that sent my toddler into the emergency room while I pack up my house for a move abroad, and get a book and short story out to press all before the end of the month. Plus, all those re-enactors have thrown a monkey-wrench into my usual traffic-free life. Rather than give in to stress, I think I need to try costuming, to re-connect with the part of myself that is deeply relaxed and calm.
So, should I go the guru route, and attempt to channel the inner peace of a yogi or monk? Or should I don Civil War era attire, to get some perspective and escape into another time, when most people’s lives were far more difficult than mine?
* I’m trying to stay neutral here. Insert your own angry objection about Confederate or Union ideals, if you like.