Another peculiarity strikes me as I read the numbers etched into the white marble: March 18, 1910. Adam Chariker was 81 when he died. Not a young man. And not a veteran of the great wars in memory… but then my slow yankee mind begins to compile the facts. These stars and bars are not Old Glory. They are the demonized symbol of an internal struggle so great that we still bear the scars more than 150 years later.
It strikes me as poignant, this banner of Civil War, placed reverently at the grave of a soldier, a veteran of combat in the defense of his country. A warrior for a cause he believed in deeply enough to fight and kill other men - his own countrymen. We awaken now in the hangover of an historic election that has divided our nation in a way that perhaps it hasn’t been in these 150 years. And this little rebel flag brings tears to my eyes to remember the thousands and thousands of men and women who have fought and died on both sides of causes that were sacred to them.
Tomorrow is Veteran’s Day. It shakes me to think that in all of my respect and reverence for those who have served it is easy to overlook the American Soldiers who fought one another, brother against brother, father against son, in the bloodiest battles that this land has been forced to drink up, believing uto their last breath in what they fought for. It’s easy to discount their service because depending on which side of the Mason/Dixon line you live on, it’s too uncomfortable to condone their fight. To call a confederate soldier a patriot is as unpopular as calling a law enforcement officer a hero. Racists, right?
The civil war was not about slavery any more than modern violent protests are about racism or mass shootings are about guns. There is a deeper underlying issue that may be just as unsuccessfully resolved by modern lawmakers as it was by the blue and the grey so long ago. The battle between north and south was about self government, external control, and the fine line between too much and not enough of both. As long as we are human we will fight this fight, and the only battleground where we will find victory is the landscape of our own minds and hearts.
I stand along the fireline here in North Carolina, shoulder to shoulder with veterans of more than one war. I stand next to conservatives and liberals, libertarians and pacifists. I work alongside Yankees who will endure grueling hours and physical labor to save the goat barn of the descendant of a confederate infantryman from burning up. This is the great America - the people who break a sweat every day to fight the very real enemies. The teachers who insist on a generation more well educated than their own. The “uneducated” voters who changed the oil in your car and grew the kale you bought at Costco. The scientists and lawyers who battle in trenches, bathed in a different gore, for our protection and our salvation from perverse humans and pervasive diseases. The doctors, backhoe operators, linemen and priests who refuse to proliferate conjecture of the condition of our nation from their couches, but with the work of their hands and minds and hearts they generate change.
It is not about making America Great Again, because that so-called “greatness” was borne on the backs of slaves, of minorities struggling first to survive, then to succeed. It’s about being the Great America that we have always intended, and continuing towards the ever elusive mark. We are perhaps now as great as we’ve ever been, as states pass laws calling assault of a police officer a “non-violent” felony and replace the rights of individuals with a higher minimum wage. The war against racism is far from over, as is the war against ignorance, greed, sloth and corruption. We owe our veterans at least our best efforts to maintain a nation worth their fight. A people worth their hope.
Our president is a representation of who we are as a people, the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly. We have cast off restraint after years of bowing to the strong arm of money and power and we now stand, naked and exposed, like the emperor in his new clothes. The real fight for American Liberty and virtue is not in Afghanistan or Aleppo, it is here in our own homes and on our own streets, and we have just run into battle with weapons that we have no idea how to control. But we can learn, and we must. And we can love, and we must.