I don’t know how many people have stopped to think of it, but have you ever stopped to think about which month of the year has the most birthdays in your family and family circle? Or which months have a collection of special events like local holidays, or even celebrations? It’s interesting to write down the months in a column and then list birthdays, anniversaries, deaths, and events in each month to compare them and see where the busy part of your year falls.
I tried it and found my calendar was fuller in several months than in the rest of the year. April has two birthdays, an anniversary, and the death of a dear friend. August has three family birthdays plus one more for my first babysitter, my best friend’s birthday, and her father’s and mother’s as well. Then comes October, with many family birthdays (from the 17th – 22nd, if I remember correctly), but three significant dates I mark in red every year.
The date is the same as today, October 19. The church commemorates Henry Martyn, a priest and a missionary to Muslims, born in 1781 and who died in 1812, but I confess I haven’t got him on my list of very special days.
The first commemoration I treasure is an event celebrating the date of October 19, 1781, when Lord Cornwallis of Britain had his adjutant surrender his sword to Gen. George Washington’s aide to conclude this part of the Revolutionary War. Cornwallis couldn’t bear to surrender his sword of nobility to a paltry general (even though that General belonged to one of the most notable families in Virginia as well as a revered statesman). The revolution wasn’t entirely over, but it ended the warfare in the south, and soon after, the north also was able to celebrate peace. In Yorktown, Virginia, my home town, it’s a day of celebration of patriotism, international and interracial cooperation (African Americans, French, Hessians, and Poles, were instrumental in the victory), thanksgiving, and dare I say pride. Although Washington and many others are now branded as slave owners (there is no denying that), I still can’t help thinking of the sacrifices he made for this country and the risks he took to make it free from British rule, even if freedom for everyone didn’t come until long after 1781, and for which some are still waiting.
The second commemoration is more personal. After sitting on the corner of our street, watching the parade of bands, soldiers, sailors (including some French ones with those endearing red pompoms on top of their hats), and speeches, my sister-in-law went into labor and a few hours later gave birth to my first niece and my brother’s first child. We all thought that it was a splendid day to be born. After all, the celebration of the day didn’t involve presents, so she didn’t get cheated on any of those, and it did have bands, parades, and fireworks, which she could say was to celebrate her natal day.
The third event was the birth of my son, some 17 years, 8 hours, and some odd minutes, as well as half a world away, of my brother’s firstborn. My then-husband and I were in the Philippines at that time, and the hospital nursery had lots of brown-haired, brown-eyed babies when my blue-eyed cherub with blonde curls joined the crowd. I’ve always wished I could have taken him back home for a birthday with the same celebrations my niece had enjoyed. I’ve always reminded him of the importance of his birthday, both personally and historically.
So, what spiritual connection can I make of this mishmash of more or less personal celebrations? I guess growing up in a town so full of history (and so close to Jamestown and Williamsburg) plus the proximity of relics of both the Revolution and the Civil War made me conscious from an early age that hallowed ground doesn’t necessarily mean blessed by the church or a minister. Among the many graves both in the churchyard and along the rustic paths through the battlefields, there are small plots of land with crosses and plaques that commemorate people who died there, many fighting far from their homes and native lands, but who still gave their lives to help a new nation be born. Some of those crosses and plaques memorialize those who fought on the opposite side, just as fiercely protecting their own country’s interests as the colonists and her allies did for theirs. The blood of all of them and all the non-combatants who also lost their lives in those conflicts sanctified that ground forever.
I celebrate two lives, both born on that same day, who are so dear to me and who are the recipients of the blessings of liberty that the battles and skirmishes of the Revolution brought to all of us. We haven’t finished the campaigns yet; there are still battles of equality and justice to be won so that all Americans, regardless of race, creed, nationality, ethnicity, or orientation, can enjoy the blessings of liberty and freedom.
The fight for freedom goes on here as well as many places around the world. The goal of world peace seems perhaps further away than ever before, but that doesn’t mean we stop fighting for it. We celebrate the heroes and mourn the fallen, whoever and wherever they are, and try to remember that Jesus told us that there would be wars and persecutions, but, as Isaiah said, we can beat our swords into plowshares. That goes for all humanity, for we are required by Jesus to love one another as we love ourselves (and our families and friends). Jesus reiterated that over and over, even though the translations of his words never specifically told us we had to like those who opposed or who injured us even unto death. Just as those crosses and burial places of so many unnamed casualties of wars with two sides, we must pray for them to be at peace as surely as we ourselves wish to be at our own end.
Happy Yorktown Day. God bless all who died for us and for those who still fight. Amen.
And celebrate with me. It’s a good day to do so.
Image: Surrender Field, Yorktown Battlefield, Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown,Virginia. Author Ken Lund. Found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. Her owners, Dominic, Gandhi, and Phoebe, keep her busy and frequently highly amused. She also unabashedly loves her home town of Yorktown, Virginia.