By Angier Brock
Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, a day that is a big deal in the little community of Yorktown, where I live. This small and now mostly quiet Virginia village was the site of a 1781 siege that ended with the last major battle of the Revolutionary War. It was here that the British General Lord Cornwallis ultimately surrendered to the American General George Washington. A great hubbub has accompanied preparations for tomorrow’s events. Portions of the battlefield have been mowed for parking. Banks of lights have been installed so that, after dark, people can find their way back to their cars. Orange cones have sprung up to aid the flow of traffic, and rows of port-a-potties have been established. The day’s festivities will include an 8K run, a 5K walk, a parade, appearances by both the U.S. Coast Guard Band and the Fifes and Drums of York Town, a bell-ringing ceremony and, of course, fireworks.
At my house, which was built in the mid-1970s on land where Lord Cornwallis’s large cannons and other heavy artillery were once located, two grandchildren have already arrived. Three more will join us soon, along with their parents; and friends will come tomorrow to spend the day. The refrigerator is loaded with food, the equipment for croquet and ladder toss has come down from the attic, and coolers full of bottled water and canned beverages await their bags of ice. The shed door is festooned with strings of red, white, and blue lights—rope lights and stars and lights that twinkle—in a small display of patriotic color.
There is much to celebrate. During the Revolutionary War siege almost 231 years ago, those on both sides suffered, and the battlefield here—like any battlefield—was the scene of great physical and psychological anguish. Just over 150 years ago, during the Civil War, a second siege of Yorktown was also accompanied by pain and destruction. Today, however, the Americans and the British are friends, our nation is one nation, and the Yorktown Battlefield is part of a national park—a beautiful, peaceful place to walk, bike, or drive. If I did not know the history or pause to read signs along the tour roads, I would have no idea so much pain, suffering, and bloodshed had occurred here.
And yet, if you know history and pay attention to the signs of our current time, there is much that is sobering. Though we are not at war with the British, we are at war in other parts of the world; and though our nation remains one nation, it is a nation polarized by complex issues, not one of which is adequately addressed by election-year rhetoric. Words such as “liberty” and “freedom” are easily bandied about. But whose liberty do we mean? Of what kind of freedom do we speak, purchased by whom, and at what cost?
As I think about the Fourth of July, I give thanks to God for the peace that has come to the battlefield where I live. I rejoice that it is now a place where family and friends can gather to celebrate, have a picnic, and play. I am grateful that healing can follow violence, and I cling to the hope such healing offers. I pray that, as a nation, we have the heart and will for further healing, and that we may come to relinquish violence in all its forms.
I pray also that those of us who celebrate the Fourth of July will live into our liberty and freedom claiming not only the rights and benefits those things bestow but also the service and sacrifice they require. May God’s greater truths and God’s timeless sense of justice govern and direct the leaders—and we the people—of this land.