'And the ladies they will all turn out.' How war came to Main Street enlisting every single one of us. Some thoughts.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant.
Author's program note. I was restless the evening of April 18 and so did what I almost never do, turning on the television for some light entertainment. This, however, was not destined to take place. Indeed, there was to be nothing light and no mirth at all for that day and the excruciatingly long day to come...
I saw the feature that so often distinguishes late night newscasts, video feed from a crime scene, the place usually being somewhere in the inner city no sensible person would ever go to, much less in dead of night. Sirens blared. The sharp reds and blues pierced the night. Police swaggered, made the kinds of adamant gestures which look so officious and ridiculous but which we card-carrying members of the middle class are glad at moments like this are on our side.
Yes, it was the usual late-night distraction that would be buried on page 8 or so in tomorrow's paper. Nothing to do with me... not even the caption on the bottom of the screen: "MIT security officer killed." But from then on, through the long night and the longer day that followed everything was direct, personal, everything to do with me.
The reporter noted the crime scene as Vassar Street, Cambridge while the on-screen video showed a great fortress-like structure that was a building well known to me. There the overflow of my pack-rat life is stored... copies of my books and articles, my father's letters from the Pacific front in World War II, both sides of the voluminous correspondence when my mother and I were working out the rough patches in a relationship where loving each other did not keep us from saying the sharpest, often wounding of words, she in her copperplate hand, mine rushed and illegible.
Such things and so many others were the crucial artifacts of life, things to be stored in boxes now, to be considered at leisure, some day, I promise... It was all in the building behind the reporter... and I glanced at the time, just about 11 p.m. Life was about to change forever as the total war of our times swept me up, imperious, without thought of who I was, what I had been doing, no matter how important. My desires, wishes, priorities counted for nothing... and neither did yours.
"When Johnny Comes Marching Home."
The lyrics to "When Johnny Comes Marching Home"' were written by the Irish-American band leader Patrick Gilmore. Its first sheet music publication was deposited in the Library of Congress on September 26,1863, with words and music credited to "Louis Lambert", a pseudonym Gilmore unaccountably used instead of his own name. The copyright was retained by the publisher, Henry Tolman & Co., of Boston.
Determining who actually composed the music is much trickier. There is, for instance, a melodic resemblance to an earlier drinking song entitled "Johnny Fill Up the Bowl". Someone named J. Durnal claimed credit for its arrangement, though not its composition. This in turn had a distinct melodic resemblance to a tune by Robert Burns, "John Anderson, my Jo", which harked back to a tune of 1630 entitled "The Three Ravens,"... which harked back to... but you get the picture.
The important thing is how popular it became both with Confederate and Union troops. And no wonder... it's a grand marching song... the music urging tired feet to go farther and never waver... while the lyrics remind them of the delights of home, theirs soon to savor and enjoy, just one more battle... just one. Before continuing, go to any search engine where you'll find several fine versions. Listen carefully to lyrics which are now ironic and as far away as ancient Troy.
"The men will cheer and the boys will shout."
This was how wars were fought in those days... and, until just the other day, in ours. We knew who the enemy was. We knew where he was. We knew what he was fighting for and we knew he had a martial code of honor which would (at least occasionally) cause him to think twice before doing the unspeakable. To be sure, it was a code more often honored in the breach... but it did exist, if only in one Geneva convention or another.
Thus did our much loved troops dress up in battle kit, self conscious about the last kiss to girlfriend or wife; these held back the tear that will surely fall when alone just minutes from now when the beloved is gone, perhaps forever. Fathers hugged the children they would not recognize when they returned; they grow so fast.
This was the war we knew... cheers on departure, certain victory for our cause was always right and our resort to warfare always reluctant and unwilling... then loud, sustained, enthusiastic cheers when Johnny comes marching home.
Now that kind of antediluvian warfare is only a thing of memory, resemblance, and wishful thinking... for now we do not go to war in full regalia, flags flying, the music brassy, suitable for the high affairs of the Great Republic. No indeed. For now we do not go to and return from the war. That war comes to us and confounds our lives more than even the greatest of battles... for we are all of us fully engaged in this new kind of undeclared, limitless war without any rules and procedures whatsoever, war where the first casualty may well be a child of 8, his life sundered and blown to bits by malefactors whose movements are secret, stealthy, and murderous, utterly without meaning, honor and the respect soldiers in the other wars might give their worthy opponents.
But this new kind of war is entirely different, insidious, taking prosaic objects and situations, turning them into the weapons of fear, anxiety and random death. This is a world where evil can lurk behind young and boyish faces and demeanors. Where there are no military helmets, but rather baseball caps, worn backwards in approved adolescent chic. This is a world where the element of deadly surprise always belongs to the attackers and thus can be wielded with merciless accuracy and acute precision.
This is a world where the elements for the bombs made to maim, dismember, and destroy are no further than your local hardware store, for amidst the waxes, sprays, paints and screws are the essential tools of pitiless catastrophe and the reverberating fear that paralyzes a great city whilst causing millions more worldwide to wonder if this could happen to them, knowing full well in their anxious hearts that these purveyors of death could already be about their cruel, selfish work; perhaps the surly young man who scowled when greeted today... worse, perhaps the handsome young man who smiled, offering a friendly quip or passing pleasantry. You see, the agent of mass pain and suffering can so easily wear the most amiable of faces.
These are the aspects of our new kind of war, the war, here now, here for the rest of our troubled, fretful lives.
"Stay in your house. Do not open your door."
I had never received such a call before, but I feel sure I will get others like it in the years ahead. I had decided to go out and see what I could see. But I never got the chance because the Cambridge Police Department called to say I was to stay at home and to make sure I didn't let any strangers in. They called this lockdown; it turned me, and hundreds of thousands of others, into a legion of the interned...
And so all of us, surrounded as we are by a plethora of communications devices, used them to feed our anxiety and disbelief. On the firing line as we were, we listened intently for each piece of often inaccurate, incomplete, and alarming detail. Like any good journalist, we examined, reviewed, made deductions, listened to more suppositions and soon-to-be-discarded "facts"... veering first one way, then another as events unfolded; our attention rapt and disbelieving that so much was happening, so close, so unaccountable, in my city, my neighborhood and on my very doorstep.
It was surreal, unforgettable, riveting, frightening, the new reality of our challenged, jittery, insecure times. And it can all take place anywhere at any time against any of the peoples of this Earth, people whose race, creed, color or disposition are deemed unsuitable by some "superior" group whose first target is killing the very idea of diversity. For in a world which must necessarily value, strive for, and cherish the diverse; they aim for just one truth, theirs, and as such are willing to go to any length, destabilize any society, engage in any barbarity to secure their way. These are the absolutists of world politics... the lordly thugs who hold the rest of us and everything we value at risk... they offer hate, violence, an agenda of unmitigated evil and unrelenting malice.
Against such a litany of horrors all the good people of this planet must stand united for our credo, tolerance for all, acceptance, humanity, diversity, inclusion and always love, for without love there can be no lasting peace... and lasting peace is what we strive for. This way, the way of unity and community, is the only way. Otherwise random death and the awesome apparatus of response will be our portion... Thus to save our freedom we are forced to give up our freedom, losers whatever happens. We are already on this perilous road, right to be apprehensive and filled with grave foreboding and growing alarm.
"And let each one perform some part/ To fill with joy the warrior's heart/
And we'll all feel gay/ When Johnny comes marching home."
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant.
Author's program note. To experience the joy of spring in New England and in its first and principal city since its inception in 1630 you must have faced and survived the very real rigors of the New England winter as only the genuine New Englander can do... resolute people... determined people... people for whom the very idea of tenacity was created.
These are the people who know the rancor in the bone rattling chill the old Atlantic has thrown at its stubborn inhabitants each wintry season since there were such inhabitants; daring them to spend yet another exacting season on this inauspicious pied-a-terre the Pilgrims audaciously decreed would be their Godly capital. And so fearing nothing but God they began, little knowing how many challenges there would be, but bolstered by the living God facing each one as it came, no matter what it was or how it seared us.
These are the kind of people who in this often grim, demanding geography built their Shining City on a Hill... these are the kind of people who sustain it. For we are a stern and rigorous people who have grown up sometimes daunted, sometimes misguided, sometimes stumbling, but always advancing... renewing... improving; even when our heart is breaking... as it most assuredly is breaking now.
For the musical accompaniment to this article, I have chosen one of the most soothing and uplifting compositions because I feel sure composer Aaron Copeland meant it especially for moments like now. This is "Appalachian Spring", and I recommend you go now to any search engine and listen to it carefully... for if your soul has no immediate need of it, there is sure to come the day when it will.
This radiant achievement was first recorded October 7, 1945. It caught the sound of the Great Republic as she moved out of the massive burden of war and took her great place on the world stage as the one certain hope of every person who loved freedom and all its works.
One of the first recordings was made in Boston, the uneasy, restless, aspiring city where every corner, every location, every crooked, narrow lane revealed another aspect of what this place and its people had done for themselves as they forged revolution here in order to secure liberty everywhere. The world took note of Boston and knew that here important things had been done... things which might benefit them.
And so the unyielding land of New England and its principal city changed the world while admonishing the good people everywhere to see what they had done to shape the better life, urging them to do as much for themselves and to do it as well.
Into this great city of liberty came people determined to use that liberty to confound that liberty, wreak grievous havoc, and inflict mayhem and pain on a perfect April day when spirits were high and joyous and all New England was garlanded by the flowers of springtime we had all been waiting for. These people came to kill... and they did kill. Came to maim... and they did maim. Came to show what purposeful menace might do... and they did show.
Thus a mother heard in disbelief and horror what her son called on this April day to say, "Ma, I'm hurt real bad." He had lost both legs to the people of purposeful menace. Then shortly after she learned a second son had lost both his legs, too, her dismay now complete. In this way the bright promise and happiness of the day died... to be replaced by disbelief, lamentation, and wonder that the work of so few could disrupt so many, so completely, and create so much pain. The universal question was 'How could this happen?"
Of those killed, I felt an immediate affinity for Martin Richard. Why? Because he was a boy who wrote improving messages on poster board. What's so important about that? Just this: I was such a boy myself and spent happy world-changing hours crafting my posters with Magic Markers like Martin, just so: school election posters, powerful lines taken from a well-thumbed "Bartlett's Familiar Quotations", the ones designed to decorate my room (often featuring the strongest possible warnings to a younger brother who wanted in when I was determined he should stay out) and, of course, the pieces de resistance, master works laboriously created, to be displayed in presidential elections, then kept proudly for years in my clothes closet, until they, tattered, still venerated and profoundly admired, were in shreds.
He was just 8 and his latest beauty, hand-lettered as usual, said a mouthful, "No more hurting people. Peace." It was festooned with those hard-to-make symmetrical hearts beloved of the very young and the very young in spirit. The peace symbol anchored the bottom standing alone in majesty, the better to make sure people knew it was a thing of the utmost significance and Martin's credo.
Of course, as many different colors as the young inventive mind could conceive, were riotously used to create this baby. He reckoned that such an important message called for such an abundance of color as the world had never seen. Thus he applied his choices with verve, lavishly, restraint unthinkable.
In perhaps the last picture of Martin he stands before the world, a wisp of a lad, no heavier than a sack of potatoes as my grandfather used to say, his smile a tad sheepish, proudly showing the message that was the heart of his endeavor.
He died in an instant, his mother and sister were severely injured. And so the youthful advocate for what the world needs now became a mangled thing of blood, disfigurement, and death.
Thus he touched the world and became the very symbol for what we so desperately need and can never have enough: peace. One hopes for the existence of God, if only so that Martin Richard can abide through eternity in serenity with the peace he urged upon us all... the peace he had for himself such a little time.
4:21 p.m. Eastern. "Are you alright?"
The voice at the other end was the best of friends. "Turn on NPR at once. Are you alright?" And so the great matter was brought with urgency to my attention, by someone who watches out for me. By that time, the cell phones of the world were overwhelmed by the calls of the near, dear and concerned, all having but a single refrain: are you okay?
In such ways does love work... and if there was malice that day on the part of a handful, millions demonstrated love. And as these calls were made, so numerous that even the most sophisticated systems were overburdened and crashed, the people of Boston did what they have done since 1630 in the face of every calamity: they said a little prayer, dusted themselves off, and helped the sore afflicted as best they could until the great resources of the great city could be summoned and brought to bear.
For this is the city of the living God, as eternal as the Eternal City itself, the city the Pilgrims wrought from the inhospitable and daunting terrain, the very definition of fortitude, endurance, courage and unflinching resolution. This is the city which gave the men of '75 the ideas that changed the course of world events and the lives of millions, including generations yet unborn.
We are the people of Boston, current custodians of her universal renown. And if our pain today is sharp, deep, and acute, we have not bowed before the unfolding tragedy. That is not the way of this place and its people even under the greatest duress. There have been great tragedies in these hallowed precincts before; there will be great tragedies again. We shall rise to every occasion, just as we have risen to this one. In this way we honor our ancestors and provide the righteous example for those who, in the fullness of time, will take on this essential burden of our greatness and humanity.
Tragedies like this one must be remembered. Yet remembrance is difficult in a society where tragic incidents come thick and fast. We want to remember, we try to remember, but all too soon we cannot remember... and something essential is lost to us and our posterity.
Let us learn from London, a city of important incidents, people and events, all memorialized by blue historical plaques reminding us of what transpired in these critical places, each a thing which might well be forgotten if no conscious effort was made to remember. Yet remember we must for the consequences of negligence put all our crucial memories at risk... and this is unacceptable.
The past is prologue, and we must do everything to ensure that its significance is never lost. Otherwise, the senseless deaths of Martin Richard and his companions for eternity will be unmitigated, their oblivion making a great tragedy more tragic still; thereby further blighting these once perfect spring days in the city of godliness, revolution, and unceasing incident.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
The older I get, the less current holidays mean to me... and the more those from years, even decades ago. I see the vivid Easter displays; (these days pharmacies seem to have the most and largest.) But these festive aisles and windows, the bags of candy, and, of course, the seasonal cuddlies do not speak to me. They merely mark the calendar as just another day.
That was not always the case, but years and unrelenting death have so thinned the ranks of the significant players in these annual rites that the dead now significantly outnumber the living, of whom, graying, I am yet one.
I do not mind giving up this present holiday; there is little enough to lose.
But I would mind relinquishing my memories of Easter days gone by, for there are my beloved ghosts, each and every one as vital in my mind's eye as quick, not long defunct.
And because these folks are even more precious to me now than then, I wish this Easter to remember them through the medium of eggs, colored eggs, hidden eggs, Easter eggs.
My mother's Easter eggs.
Without any effort whatsoever, I see her in the way the narrator in Thornton Wilder's play "Our Town" (1938) saw his characters and Granite state denizens. She was young and beautiful then, far, far younger than I am now. She worried, as so many women before and since, about whether she was a "good mother" because she had outside work responsibilities. When I was much older, she would ask me if I minded her being away when I came home from school. I was too young to know just what I should have said. So, I stumbled through an answer I hope gave comfort, but must doubt.
Perhaps it was some scintilla of this guilt (I cannot be sure) that drove the yearly Easter Egg Project, or perhaps it was simply that this messy business was sure to make her laugh. I was there but perceived little; today I see much more, all impressions secure in my mind's eye.
I quite recall we'd go to Woolworths, first, and then our local general store and post office, run by Mr. and Mrs. Mackey (I never called them anything other); folks who knew all, but were most times (gratefully) discrete.
Both places would have had the Eastern egg coloring kit (by PAAS?) that was de rigueur for this annual kitchen table rite. This kit had the necessary color pellets, special "swirl" colors, too, for advanced egg coloring.... and a host of decals with seasonal themes. We only used the secular ones. Some of these were certain to be later found in my brother's hair and clothes; he tried to do as much to me, but I was older and wise to his tactics. He can hardly laugh about it even now...
At first. there was strict order and efficiency. Uncolored eggs here; table spoons for these eggs for dipping. Hot water (mind it needed vinegar) on the stove... pellets here... decals there. This sensible ordering of the event was gone in an instant, submerged in uncouth behaviors, reachings around and over, and of course clever sibling sabotages.
And always and again, laughter that firmly established more than any query ever could, that yes she was the best of mothers, how could she even wonder? Thus, some telltale signs of the battle still table top, the now colored eggs packed up (except a few) and driven purposefully to Grammie's house, where we rambunctious and much loved, visited most every day. Grammie had a task for these eggs... and we knew partly what it was, for these rituals were yearly done.
Each year, Grammie and Grampie, their four adult children and their spouses, would mastermind the family Easter Egg Hunt. There was never any question where it would be held. And while it was not so grand as the nation's Egg Rolling at the White House, it was as meticulously arranged and punctiliously celebrated.
All aunts contributed the necessary elements -- colored eggs of course (always the subject of high scrutiny and devastating comments sotto voce); home-made cookies (the honor of their sex ensured we never had others); and mountains of Easter candy that started with chocolate rabbits and ended with jelly beans. Then circled back to chocolate again. Excess was the order of the day.
Children were encouraged to play outside. Important doings were underway... in the kitchen and in the "rec" room below where the men had the task of determining the hiding places in and out... and carefully writing each location down. These men might grumble... but they never missed this crucial aspect of the affair. They would have been there anyway; we all ended each day in Grammie's house and kitchen perforce, no invitation ever needed.
At the appointed hour Easter Day, after church and a heavy, formal luncheon which lost nothing of our solid living Hanoverian ancestors, the grandchildren (and that meant every last one of us) were gathered at the starting point in the garage, where on ordinary days Grampie was not above showing off his latest Oldsmobile and his automated garage door. His children, as yet, had neither.
The grandchildren's Easter eggs.
Grampie and his two sons and two sons-in-law including my father were in charge of Order and Efficiency. This year would surely not be a repeat of what happened last year. But it always was...
The children were all sternly and solemnly admonished to put what they found in their Easter basket and, Above All Else, to let one of the hovering adults know Where They Had Found It.
As always, the organizing theory was excellent... but the reality ensured the customary mass chaos (and much laughter).
The youngest grandchildren could never recall where they had found that chocolate bunny, which was already absent an ear. The oldest grandchildren (inspired by me, the oldest of all) were practised predators. We knew all the best hiding places and went to them like a bat from hell, erasing all order as we went.
Such perhaps was the truest indication that we were a family, each and every one of us.
Unwilling to end this giant game of hide and seek, the grandchildren hid and re-hid the eggs (now mostly broken and inedible) and candies, too. There were only to be found when one of the uncles was sure to find in humid July in the toe of his winter boots, a very jaundiced and pungent Easter egg artifact. So, that's where that one went....
No Easter, however, would have been complete without my father taking us to the feed store and reviewing the new colored chicks and ducks (red, blue, purple, green). We were allowed a half a dozen or so; before we left Grammie's we got to show our less fortunate cousins What We Got... pets all, none ever to be eaten.
Now all this exists only in my mind's eye... but, because I've summoned this story, it is all quite clear, so many fond details not lost, but here after all and after all these years.
And so I say to every parent, grandparent and distant aunts and uncles, too: this day, live this day and hug every memory close. Each one is yours... and precious, too; not one to lose. It all starts with a colored egg, my privilege too long forgot, to do this day, in remembrance of all, each one alive in me as I in them.
Dr. Jeffrey Lant, Harvard educated, started writing for publication at age 5. Since then, he has published over 1,000 articles and 63 books, and counting.