It's a grim scene, a young man to be excecuted by hanging, charged with espionage. Such is the senseless ravage of war that so often cuts short the young life in it's prime. Facing the gallows with resignation, he spoke of giving "ten-thousand lives" if necessary. Could it be, before his life was taken, that a dying man's regret somehow becomes fulfilled?
DNA: the strand of life; a pool of common genetic material from all of humanity has been drawn, connected across the generations. One life, one event reaches out across the span of history. Perhaps the young man was granted his dying wish?
An ancient text reads, "Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee." ( Deuteronomy 32:7 ). History is more than dates and insignificant trivia dredged up from days long past. To be appreciated, it must be viewed from the persepctive of those who lived it. History cries out, it tells a story to those who listen.
Pascifists and Rabble-rousers
"These are the times that try men's souls." A young man writes with passion at a wooden desk, an oil lamp flickering in the background. He pauses to reflect, then continues. "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman." The scene progresses to a printer busy at work, reading the words out loud as his assistant sets the type. "Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph." Next we cut to two men standing on the street corner, one reading a pamphlet out loud to himself as the other listens intently. "What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value." One or two gather to listen until others crane to hear. The man reads the words out loud to a raucous but uneasy crowd, lifting up his voice. "Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated."
British soldiers march In the background, eying the boisterous gathering.
Two things there was no shortage of in the colonies in those days; pacifists & rabble-rousers, with the masses caught up in the middle. The climate darkens with the prospect of war. Whatever your opinion or side, the outcome seems inevitable.
The Pool of Human Experience
This thing we call, DNA: could it be more than random groups of complimentary base pairs connected by hydrogen bonds and wound about a double helix frame of phosphate and ribose? Perhaps we only arrogantly assume science knows all, that no mysteries remain to be solved or explained. How then do codons and indels and RNA primers work together to express that code? We understand the basic concept of the exchange of genetic material that takes place between parallel sets of chromosomes during meiosis, expressing unique physical traits and characteristics. But what about personalityand behavior? How little do we know? How much deeper does this current run beneath the surface in the course of humanity? Are experience and behavior, personality and pre-dispositions somehow simultaneously copied and transcribed and reproduced along with the physical traits; handed down from one generation to the next?
Into The Lair
A man sitting alone in the crowded tavern is a admission to the fact that he's out of place, he doesn't belong. In a place where men go to meet and share a drink, a man by himself attracts attention. This young man sits silent, listening. Under normal circumstances such an aberration would be politely ignored. but these times are anything but normal. The country is at war. a large force overseas is stationed in the city. This is a war of neighbor against neighbor, Whigs against the Tories and Loyalists, the pacifists and those clamoring for war. It is a civil war, a revolutionary war. This is a time of war and everyone is a suspect.
Background: New York falls to the British about mid-September, 1776 . As Howe draws the noose, Washington narrowly escapes. A young man volunteers to go behind enemy lines in order to spy on the British. He knows full well the risk should he be caught.
One man sits and watches. "Hello? What have we here," he asks himself. "Sitting alone, is he? And why, pray tell does a man sit alone in a tavern unless... he's not from here." He takes a sip from his glass. Could he be a spy? A few ales later and some idle talk from some of the regulars, eager to talk at the prospect a free draft...
"He's a quiet man, they say." Only recently has he begun to frequent the establishment. They talk in hushed tones against a raucous din of noisy patrons spewing out ale along with the news of the day. "Mostly he just sits and listens as people talk. Says he's a teacher of sorts. Just recently arrived. Not from here, he is."
"That so?" Later on he joins the lone patron." Mind if I join you," he asks, then sits before he can consent ...or object.
"Not a bit, Sir."
He seems a bit nervous, the young man. His new found companion appears to be more than a bit tipsy. "So what's a man like yourself here alone in a crowded tavern. Not a good place to be alone, I think." He grins. He watches his manners and conduct. Obviously he's well-educated but I think naive. He's a spy alright but not a good one. Let's see if he'll take the bait.
He lowers his voice in the crowded tavern to voice his displeasure at the politics of the day. Feigning his allegiance to the American colonies, he seems bitter. "Lost my business to the King. Confiscated for lack of payment..." he leans in close "...taxes," he says! "Thugs and robbers, the lot of them. I have information," he offers. "...troop movements and the like. How'd I'd love to share it with those rebels after what they did..." The trap is set. He arranges a hasty meeting with his contact. Later that night the stranger is apprehended by the Queen's Rangers. Interrogated by General Howe himself, he is charged as a spy.
The scene cuts to a school in New York. A young man enters a classroom. The substitute teacher has arrived. It's cold outside. He wears a scarf wrapped tightly about his neck.
"Who are you," the class demanded?
"Perhaps it is I who should be doing the asking. Who are you," he countered? "For the next two days I will be your substitute teacher. I see by the lesson plan, we're studying the Revolutionary War." I'm going to jump in with an excert from a play by the name of, "CATO", holding up his well-worn copy.
"A play, they ask? How boring is that? "Boring." he replies?
"Have you read it?!!" Ignoring their protests he begins to read. His words rise to compete with his audience. Passion rings from his words as one by one they fall quiet, caught up in the fervor of the words.
How beautiful is death, when earn'd by virtue!
Who would not be that youth? What pity is it
That we can die but once to serve our country.
This play helped serve as an ideological inspiration to the American cause during the war. These words inspired General Washington during Valley Forge; besides him, we think also inspired Patrick Henry to utter, "Give me Liberty or give me death!' And one other, an apparent reference from the remarks of Nathan Hale in his last words as he went to the gallows.
"How do you know so much about history?"
"Mostly from reading eye-witness accounts. That's the answer I'm going with," he smiles. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
Two days later, the regular teacher returns to class and the myterious substitute slips away as quietly as he appeared.
At The Gallows
It's a grim scene at the gallows to watch an execution. The young man conducts himself with resolute firmness and dignity. He is resigned to his sentence, unapologetic to the end. He makes his last remark, defiant. His is not the first young life lost to war. Lives lost, interrupted are a casulty of war. Cut short by a bullet or a bayonet or in this case... a hangman's noose.
Before he dies, he utters words that still live on. He has a regret, not that he had been caught or he had been sentenced to death so young. His regret is of a different sort. As we listen to his words we get the sense that as unpleasant as his fate may be; given the choice he would do it again if need be. His regret is that he only has one life to give. Accounts vary but something to this effect. Should he have ten thousand lives to live, he declares that he would readily give them all. "Ten thousand lives," he said. And then he is summarily executed. Spectators witness the grisly scene. Witnesses, gripped by what they saw that day record the event for posterity. This sacrifice, given once will be told again. Rehearsed, recounted, and perhaps even ...re-lived?!!
The Dictates Of The Past
Who are you?
No, really. Who are you?
Surrounded by our modern environs, besieged by mind-numbing television in a culture satiated with entertainment; operating under the pretense that science can explain all the mysteries of life. I suppose it may be easy to convince yourself you are a mere random act of chance and not something deeper, a product more of design than chance. A healthy dose of skepticism should alert us that we may know so little of what we only assume. Perhaps your roots go deeper than you comprehend, perhaps you are more closely connected -wired- to the past than you suspect. Is it possible that memories may not be inherited from one generation to the next? Just maybe the thread of DNA that runs through our genetic flow, runs deeper than we realize. Maybe an exchange of genetic material gleaned from our past progenitors, an undercurrent in the gene pool carries you along in its tow. Perhaps it dictates more than the color of our eye or the complexion of our skin? Does your past still exert an influence over you, stronger than you understand? Maybe this explains why we're so unique and yet so similar? Do we inherit more than physical expressions of our progenitors? Maybe history does indeed repeat itself, not a script we act out verbatim as mindless drones but predispositions that run deep within, exert more power than we realize..
At one time, simple blobs of protoplasm were sufficient an explanation to satisfy a man inclined to believe that life could be so simple, or so simply explained. Some say love is merely a combination of certain hormones and the physiological interaction of the sympathetic nervous system. Is it mere chemistry? Or is there more to it than neurotransmitters and biochemical reactions? Maybe what we call science is less than the perfect knowledge we assume it to be, is instead an oversimplification of more profound truth we have yet to comprehend?
I see them everyday. soldiers. Just ordinary people whose lives have been interrupted, preparing to deploy overseas. Most come back. Some return but not the same as they left. Some do not at all.
"Here," she says, handing him a letter. "This came for you today, looks official," she says. "What is it?" He reads to himself in disbelief, lips moving silently. His heart drops, he pauses. Then with somber expression looks up. "Orders," he replies. "These are my orders. My unit", he pauses... "were being mobilized. Afghanistan." Winded by the news. They embrace. "I've got to go," he says. She nods but doesn't let go.
Most return, some do not.
A few days later the FBI show up at the school to investigate the recent substitute teacher. "We're not at liberty to discuss the case.
A couple of agents confer in private. "Who was he? And why would he impersonate a teacher?"
The other agent replies,"Can't say that we know just yet. Maybe he's an idealogue of some kind. Maybe he had some agenda. We've got some background check information on him but not much more. The information we gathered so far indicates he was a veteran. Here's his the file with an I.D. card. According to this, let's see, last name..." pauses... "Hale ...he was a captain," Pausing again... "but that can't be right?
"Last year, about this time... he was killed in action in Afghanistan."
© 2011 Jim Henderson