July 4th, the day that has for just over two centuries signified Independence Day in the United States.
I was born and raised for just over a score of years there. It is the country I associate myself with, the passport I hold in my grubby hands when I travel, the flag that beckons me. But it is no longer home.
On July 4th, my thoughts do not race at the thought of picnics, banners of red, white and blue fluttering gently in the hot summer breeze. I don’t think about fried chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs, coleslaw or any of those wonderful foods. Surprisingly, since I am student and lover of history, my mind does not wander to militia and cannons, to Redcoats and raiders, to delegates gathered in a small room drafting what would become the Declaration of Independence.
My mind does however travel back to a small town in Pennsylvania that made its mark in history in 1863. On July 1st, 2nd and 3rd, this small northern town by the name of Gettysburg saw the bloodiest battle ever fought in American history. Actually a series of smaller engagements all centered in and around the town. Over these three days, around 53,000 soldiers lost their lives fighting for whichever cause they supported, depending on whether they fought on the Union side or the Confederacy.In one onslaught, Pickett’s Charge, around 6,000 officers and enlisted men were either slain or taken prisoner in the short space of one hour.
In October 2008, I wrote the following ode dedicated not only to a place I feel drawn to, but to the men who lost their lives and maybe in some way, to myself.
Ode to the fallen, at Gettysburg
Preservation leads me to the mountain.
As the chill of night seeps into my bones and chisels away at them causing me to shiver,
planted to the rock,
the roots of my soul embedding themselves in the history of this place.
Within the stillness,
the echoes of the battles ring in my ears.
A voice cries out and I tilt my head to listen.
Silence meets my fine tuned radar.
blind faith led by hope,
lives snuffed out by the swiftness of a sword,
or the speed of an ancient bullet.
For a cause, lost.
Eight years ago, I was sat in a small office somewhere on the 7th floor of a hospital in the city I reside in. I was being told I had breast cancer. Of all days … July 4th … a day that for so many had meant freedom for me now meant I was about to begin my fight to be free again.
Now as July 4th dawns here in England, I realize that I am finally free. Freedom comes with a price and I paid dearly, but in many ways, it has been worth it.