Saturday, October 19, 2013

Standing with the Shot Heard 'Round the World

"By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world."
Concord Hymn, by Ralph Waldo Emerson
First read, July 4, 1837 at the North Bridge, Concord, Massachusetts 

     Earlier in the month, while visiting New England on the eighth day of the U.S. government shutdown, I visited the towns of Lexington and Concord Massachusetts where on the nineteenth of April, 1775 the colonists battle for independence from the tyranny of King George of England began in earnest. First on the Green in Lexington, a shot was fired causing a skirmish and 7 colonist Minutemen and one frightened, fleeing civilian were killed and a dozen more injured. The Redcoats had two members sustain minor injuries. The vastly outnumbered militia retreated to Concord, across the North Bridge over the Connecticut River as reinforcements arrived from Boston and the surrounding area. Both sides deny firing the shot and local folk lore suggests that Samuel Adams, who was visiting town at the time discharged his firearm as an act of characteristic mischief possibly hoping to catalyze the situation out of stagnation. 
    I stood there on the Green and contemplated what must have been a terrifying time for Colonists and Loyalists alike. The colonies were were at unrest with a vocal minority pointing out over taxation, tyranny and crying for freedom while a mostly silent majority were resigned and not wanting to rock the boat of the status quo. (Hm. That sounds familiar.) Whomever fired that shot on the green was the singular catalyst of the Revolution. What were the Minutemen thinking as they retreated to Concord to await orders?  Did they know their course was set? These were questions I pondered as I traveled the few miles from Lexington to stand where the orders were given to engage the Redcoats and begin the battle for independence and the unique freedom and personal liberty that would accompany it as labor began in the birth of the United States of America.
     Before heading to the North Bridge, I toured what is known as "The Old Manse" a famous house because the original parcel encompassed the land where the first battle began and also because a century later great literature, poetry and transcendental philosophy were born there in the minds of Alcott, Thoreau, Hawthorn and Emerson. In a corner of one of the rooms of the manse stood a grandfather clock which was ticking that famous day as the War for Independence began only a few hundred paces away. The clock is tenderly cared for and regularly wound, and I heard it keeping time that day. I was awed by the ticking and the thought of all the history the clock had survived. I thought too of the linear perception of time, the sequential nature of progress and the cumulative acquisition of knowledge over the centuries. It seemed immediately clear to me that without the Revolution, the great writers and thinkers would not have evolved. How could the evolution of the mind occur without freedom? It does not seem possible. Tyranny and oppression must halt progress, good and bad alike. These thoughts consumed me as I exited the house and began the short walk to the North Bridge.
   Fieldstone fences in place for centuries separated the property into sections and I followed the path next to one of them which led to the bridge. I then had to cross the line where the sign said I could not enter because the area was closed due to the government shutdown.  It was fleetingly disconcerting that in order to experience the bridge and the battlefield I had to break the law, but there was no fear for others had ventured past before me. Also, by definition, Federal land is owned by the citizens. It was my land and the land of my ancestors for I am indeed a direct descendant, on my mother's side, of a soldier of the American Revolution.
    I approached the bridge in wooded shade as the Redcoats did and noticed a plain obelisk at the nearest end of the bridge. Off to the side was a small memorial for those British soldiers who lost their lives in the battle. On the base were etched in golden print, the words that began this post. Past the obelisk the woods gave way to the river and the bridge itself was bright with sunshine as was the field where the fighting took place.  Again I was faced with a metaphor: emerging from the dark side of tyranny into the light of freedom. I crossed the bridge slowly, my mind attempting to grasp the enormous importance of what happened there, trying to take it in and connect to history itself. 
    On this side of the bridge stood a sculpture of a Minuteman, an armed citizen soldier willing to die for his freedom and the freedom of his fellow countrymen. He was perched atop a tall base with quotations from founders and generals. Beyond the statue was where battle took place and blood was shed, where good men died and the march to freedom began. It was a solemn place which caused me to pause before daring to walk out onto the sun-drenched gently rolling field. It was there, in the middle of the field, looking at the bridge from the colonists perspective, where my mind started reeling.

     I found myself comparing my place in history with theirs. Once again, this land is ruled by tyranny and too many of the freedoms for which men fought in this place have been severely limited or taken away. This is a great tragedy. Would the grand experiment in freedom begun that day a short 238 years ago be ending the same way it began?  I shutter at the thought and if I think about it too long I become filled with anxiety, even fear that I will live to see the demise of freedom with nowhere left on earth to preserve it.  I do not want to see this.  I would prefer to die before it occurs, or perhaps I will die trying to turn the tide back to liberty.  I do not know. The sense of mourning I felt as I stood in the middle of that field was deep and real.  We need the next round of patriots: another Samuel Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the others.  Who will rise to the occasion and the cause of freedom?  Could such individuals be living today?  Will they make themselves known so that we who witness the destruction can hold out and hope for a return to a country that aligns with the founders vision of freedom, equal justice under the law and the rights of the individual being more important than the collective, where personal responsibility is the norm?  A girl can dream.... Right?