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I’d like to dedicate this column to Yana Berlin for her tenacity, courage and perseverance. All qualities that this Nation stands for are embodied within Yana. And to the women, and men, who have become a part of this community. And, also, to the Honorable memory of General Robert E. Lee, who saw the ‘light’ that the battles needed to be over.

 There is a certain challenge in coming up with a theme-related, patriotic article every year without digging into the great writings traditionally used over and over. In my determination to always look at things from various perspectives, this edition will be different but, to me, most fitting. A beautiful poet made it possible.

It happened quite by accident. I hadn't even mentioned the upcoming 4th of July holiday to my fellow word wranglers. Frankly, I was at a loss as to what to do differently in the publications I write for. I happen to be up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania visiting with my son and daughter-in-law. Why not look around to see what this state, known for historical contributions with its ‘City of Brotherly Love, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell’ may have to offer. I even considered a day trip to Philadelphia hoping for inspiration!

Ironically, my son was talking one day about an annual bike ride in Gettysburg. Wrong battlefield , I thought. My mind was on George Washington crossing the Delaware, Valley Forge and the Star Spangled Banner.  

Then, out of the blue I received a poetry submission from a dear friend I met through my work with the Infinite Writer's Poetry Nook, Jo Harris Shaw. During the reading of it, tears began creeping down my face. I read it to my daughter-in-law and saw the much the same reaction. That sent me into what I call 'my pondering mode.'

Just what is it we are celebrating on the 4th of July Holiday, which has now evolved into a three day weekend event?  Is it Freedom? Independence? A Nation made up of equality and justice for all? A Flag that symbolizes ONE Nation, indivisible, under God? (Added later for the masses) Or, just a three-day weekend off from work?

It struck me then, that the poem I was staring at and re-reading over and over again, was the right poem, the right war, the right battlefield, after all. This event was actually the real promise of Independence and Freedom for all within America. And at that, we, as a nation, still required many years to adopt it into our psyche and enforce it with the Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

Even then and through this day, we, as a nation, still struggle with large pockets of buried resentments and prejudices. Our Patriotism is stained and impaired with both personal and political tenets that go against everything taught in both our founding history documents and our sacred books.

It would do my heart good if at your picnics, your lighting of sparklers and viewing fabulous fireworks across the Nation's skies, everyone reading the following poem by Jo Harris Shaw ponders these 4th of July thoughts as I did. Thank you, Jo . . .

THE PARTING OF LEE AND HIS GENERALS

It was Sunday that spring day in Richmond,
and folks were in church with their kin,
when a dust cloud appeared on the skyline
and a unit of Rebels rode in.

Their vestments were soiled and ragged,
browned faces showed signs of fatigue,
the once jaunty plumes in the slouch hats
reminders of their special league.

They rode with a splendid perfection,
their horsemanship striking to see,
Damn proud they sat in the saddle,
and in front rode Robert E. Lee.

He rested his hands on the pommel,
his eyes blindly staring ahead,
as his troops cantered up to his old home,
he turned, and his heart filled with dread.

He regarded this group of brave soldiers,
who had followed his fortunes in war,
for four bloody years he had led them,
but now they would battle no more.

Dismounting they followed his action,
each man with his hat in his hand,
They stood with their arm through the bridle,
while Lee went to stand by each man.

Intently he gazed into each face,
where defeat and destruction befell,
then he turned and he walked through the gateway,
glancing back for one final farewell.

Not a word among them was spoken,
but a sob through the ranks slowly crept,
As these heroes of hundreds of battles,
Leaned their heads on their horses and wept.  

Jo Harris Shaw

I can only add . . .

May we put the battles behind us, each and every one.
Enough young soldiers have wept. Enough of their brothers have strewn the ground. Enough mothers and fathers have endured. War is hell enough; must we forget the battles won? With no lessons learned, they all have died for nothing worth celebrating. But only for each other.

Susan Haley

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