When Home Is a Historic Town
A FEW years ago I could think of no greater hardship than to attend any event related to the history of Concord, Mass. But recently, I not only found myself regularly checking the calendar in anticipation of one such extravaganza, I actually sank to the appalling depth of asking friends to come with me.A virtual panic hit. Had I become boring? One has to understand what growing up in Concord means to truly appreciate the desperation of which I write. Concord is the site of the second battle of the American Revolution, the Battle of the North Bridge, fought on April 19, 1775. The town was home to Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Bronson Alcott, who founded the Transcendental philosophical and literary movement. Concord also has the lofty distinction of being the oldest inland town in the United States and is the location of the famous Walden Pond. And let's not forget that its borders contain the one and only original Concord Grape vine. The natives take not a little pride in these facts. Thus from the earliest age, we are bombarded with Concord history. It comes at us from all sides: plastered on displays in the library, inscribed in pamphlets and maps clutched by flocking tourists, and paraded in the streets every April 19 (Patriot's Day) aboard canons and horse-drawn wag-ons. On Saturdays, parents drag their reluctant offspring to the myriad local museums. Then the schools drag the poor souls to the same museums the following week. This pattern continues year after year... . During our 13 years in the Concord schools, my classmates and I studied every aspect of Concord's participation in the revolution, down to the detail of knowing the names of then-inhabitants of Concord, the location of their residences, and their individual roles in "the battle of the bridge." Our Concordization was fleshed out by experiencing the sometimes unpleasant lifestyles of our forefathers. This included sewing "period" clothing, cooking some of their less sumptuous dishes, reading their writings, and reenacting events of Pilgrim and revolutionary times. In college, free from this constant attack, my attitude toward Concord altered slightly. I started taking college friends along the tranquil and flowering paths surrounding the Old North Bridge. This mild appreciation, however, dissolved into the more enjoyable game of dragging these New York City urbanites through "Concord Appreciation Day." It entailed driving for long hours looking at all the historic sites in Concord - even the grapevine. But now, a year after graduation, my opinions have performed a handspring. I fear I am fulfilling my darkest nightmares of Concord fanaticism by returning to Concord ... often. I've been asking myself, what draws me back? I was at the Patriot's Day parade, watching a reenactment of the Battle of the North Bridge, when I began to sense the answer. When the minutemen marched unwaveringly up to the bridge while the British troops fired into their ranks, I found myself overcome with emotion at this bravery. I mean, my traitorous eyes actually welled with tears. For the first time I had to concede that all those boring school days dedicated to the study of Concord's past have had a tremendous impact on me. I can see how my childhood visions of Concordian farmers struggling for the right to governmental representation and of Massachusetts Indian tribes trying to preserve their culture and land have heightened my sensitivity to issues of democracy, justice, and human rights. Visits to Concord have helped fit other such puzzle pieces into the continuity of my life. I solved the riddle of my fascination with Concord when I dug out my copy of "Walden" and went for a walk around Walden Pond. I was supposed to have read Thoreau's classic in high school, but, with all I was learning about global political turmoil, I just skipped over the majority of the text to the part that swayed me most: "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience." As I sat by the pond reading the other part of his book, I found that Concord history still had something to teach me. I learned that when Thoreau worried that his conception of life lacked substance, he did not follow his contemporaries and fly to Europe to perk things up. He went to a place, not a mile from home, where existence was so uncluttered and simple he could not miss its essence. It is easier to sail many thousand miles through cold and storm ... than it is to explore the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one's being alone." These words revealed the need to explore how my private world has transformed home into a magnetic pole. The ensuing exploration unveiled my longstanding attempt to escape my childhood. I thought that if I hesitated to leave Concord and expand my experience, I would be provincial, boring, unhappy. Now I know that I will never find happiness, or inner peace, if I can't come to terms with who I am - as unglamorous as that sometimes is. Instead of trying to free myself from Concord, I need to embrace even the hardest aspects of my life there. This does not mean that an exciting life is not ahead of me. Thoreau says, "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them." Before I lay my life's path, I need solid undergirding. This introspection lifts my panicked heart out of my stomach. Perhaps I am growing up just a little bit and am learning to appreciate all the things that my pursuit of coolness called on me to deprecate. More likely, when I entered the fend-for-yourself world and began struggling to find my place, I was thrown into a profound identity search. Originally, I thought I had conducted the search during college. That outward-focused exploration did reveal many interests and abilities, but it was only half the task. Now I am being forced to go back to my roots - to find, at last, what I've always had. In a town steeped in its history, I am finding my personal history ... and future.