WHEN JOHN WAYNE was dying of cancer, President Ronald Reagan asked all Americans to hold in their hearts and pray for “a real American hero.” I recalled this State-of-the-Union comment several times as I walked through the oldest sections of Boston on the brick lined “Freedom Trail.”
There’s a monument marking Paul Revere’s eternal plot in this first burial ground. John Adams, too. Hancock rested in the next yard. These were men who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to something bigger than themselves. Make that “people:” Some say Hester Prynne’s real-life personage is interred locally.
As is the south meeting hall where locals devised plans to protest that the tax on tea did not come with a representative voice for the citizenry. There, too, plans to alarm the hinterlands regarding British movements were hatched.
Down the path apiece, because things advanced the way these things do, thirteen colonists were shot dead by redcoats who received no return fire.
Walking along the Freedom Trail, I considered the heroes of our early history and those we revere now. I nodded at a City of Boston firefighter, sitting on the bumper of his engine, just inside an open garage door, then took liberties in shaking his hand. A bit later, a cop blew a shrill whistle, pointed directly at me, admonishing me not to cross against the light. I thought of the serviceman, still in his fatigues I’d seen over at Logan International, and the teacher walking beside me.
REAGAN’S “REAL AMERICAN HERO,” the late Marion Morrison – the “Duke” – John Wayne was a movie actor. Early in career, the roles were simple: read the lines slow, ride a horse and hit someone in a bar room brawl. Later, he received a bit more compelling roles. I’ll always like the way he pulled off Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit.” But, as far as reality goes, the Duke was only a man delivering someone else’s lines. Unfortunately, just like Mr. Reagan and many of the political leaders of our day.
AMONG THE REASONS we restore, protect and maintain sites such as Paul Revere’s house or the Old North Church is so that passers-by can pause for a moment, and, perhaps, catch a reflection of some larger image.
This I did. “The Freedom Trail,” I said, to the teacher walking beside me, “is not a mere 2.6 miles in long. The Freedom Trail is a path of undetermined length – one that spans the nation over which we had so recently flown, and one that continues to expand.” I gesticulated with a finger swirling in the air. “It expands as long as we respect and revere those who spend their lives in services to causes greater than themselves!”
Stopped in my esoteric tracks, I nodded and laughed out loud. Together, we wished we could remember how to get back to that old tavern.
Church of the Open Road Press