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Sacred Space and Thin Air
by Arthur Cola
(Appearing at IBAM, Irish Books Art and Music Celebration, on Nov. 12-13, 2011 at the Irish Heritage Center,Chicago and 44th Annual American Italian Historical Association Conference, Oct. 20-22, Tampa,FL and Festa Italiana, Washington, D.C. on Oct. 9)
The Irish Festival of New England is a memory now but the thrill of being part of it as a guest author still causes me to smile. I had the good fortune to conduct presentations on my novel: The Shamrock Crown (Legend of Excalibur) to an audience at the Irish Cultural Centre. I had never been to Boston and as a retired History teacher, turned writer, it was quite exciting to be walking on the same roads as the likes of John Adams, Paul Revere and John Hancock. But what was even more euphoric for me was having the opportunity to visit Concord and Lexington,MA where our nation’sIndependence efforts began in earnest with the shot “heard around the world.” It would be a long process, the War of Independence that is, but eventually we became the United States of America.
I was being guided through Lexingtonand Concord by the son of my wife’s cousin. Mike was an excellent guide and patient as I wanted to walk everywhere and see everything despite my rather full timetable at the Festival. But I had a day all to myself before the festival began in earnest and I would have that day filled to the brim and exhaustion of the new MIT graduate who was my guide. Thus did we leave the lovely home of Jim and Gayle amidst the forested outskirts of the Historic Town of Concord to find the spot where Paul Revere was captured as he wildly rode his horse to warn the town that the “British were Coming.” Every school boy in my day learned the famous poem (Paul Revere’s Ride) which made that ride famous and the line…”one if by land and two if by sea” written by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was etched in our brain for all time. And now here I was walking across the Bridge where the Minutemen confronted the approaching British troops. To my left was the grave of those British soldiers who fell during that battle of Concord Bridge. Further off was the home called the Old Manse where several of our nation’s accomplished authors and their families of that day and later into the 19th Century had lived. One of those families was that of Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose father, the Rev. William Emerson, actually stood on the porch to watch the skirmish between the Red Coats and the local militia now remembered as the Minutemen.
Now I stood on a huge rock opposite the boat house looking at The Manse, which was home to the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. I tried to see in my mind’s eye the discussions which took place there between Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa May Alcott, author of “Little Women”), The Hawthorne and Emerson Families and Thoreau. For here the ideas of Independence were hatched. Later, in the 1800’s, those discussions continued as the idea of “Nature and Soul” and philosophical thought were added to the cause to abolish slavery. These must have created quite a stir amidst the now placid lake and babbling river over which that famous bridge, now recreated, spans.
Thus, with all these images of authors of our past flooding my thoughts, this new writer climbed down under the bridge to collect a few rocks so that I might have a piece of that history and a story to tell when I returned home to my family and grandchildren. The rock collection was a ritual I have long performed. In fact it was the collecting of rocks at the cultural sites of Ireland and Italy that first inspired me to write stories which became my novels in the first place.
Thus I stood with rocks in hand, one for me, and one for each of my grandchildren, reflecting on how this spot where I stood was sacred ground of sorts. For here was spilled the blood of Red Coats and Patriots alike each seeking to defend a cause which was held dear to them, that of Freedom and Liberty. Here the dying and the living prayed for guidance and strength to save their town, their families and their new nation struggling to be born.
It would not be until the Mass celebrated on the grounds of the Irish Cultural Centre of New England (where the festival was held) that this idea of “sacred ground” would profoundly effect my thoughts once more. The priest had begun his homily with an image New York City. He described as “holy ground” that area now called “Ground Zero” since that day ten years ago when thousands lost their lives during the attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. He went on to say that were we stood was also sacred ground for wherever people gather to seek God, that place would be covered by what the Irish refer to as “Thin Air.” That thin air would allow the blessings of God to easily flow through onto those gathered.
It was then that it hit me. That thought I had while holding onto a piece of that sacred ground where Freedom was baptized in blood in Concord and Lexington. There must be a layer of thin air above “Ground Zero” in New York City which allows the grace of God to perpetually descend upon the dust particles which once made up the living souls of those who perished and which still rest in the crevices of the surrounding buildings, and the nearby St. Paul Chapel of Trinity Parish and over the new Memorial being created along with Freedom Tower rising higher and higher into the heavens. Yes indeed, that “Thin Air” must cover “Ground Zero” as well as that Bridge Area of Concord, the Village Green of Lexington, the Italian North End of Boston where the Old North Church stands vigilantly as a beacon of Faith and Liberty now as it did when the lanterns were illuminated in its steeple to warn the Towns of impending danger and invasion. Oh I could go on with a long list of “sacred ground and thin air” locations in our land as well as across the sea in lands from which our ancestors first immigrated to seek the blessings of those unalienable rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. But suffice it to say, that on that field outside of Boston in Canton, Massachusetts I came to better understand the emotions, understanding of loss and blessing, unalienable rights and love of country in a way that made the Ground Zero Memorial a place of “sacred space and thin air” so important to the people of New York City and across our nation.
(Arthur Cola is a retied educator whose books include the novels: The Shamrock Crown, The Stone Cutter Genius and Papa and the Leprechaun King. He is also the author of a children’s book: Papa and the Gingerbread Man. His works are available at www.amazon.com/arthurcola and through your local Barnes and Noble Bookstores. Visit his web site at: www.arthurcolalegendarytales.com . Blog: www.arthurcolalegendarytales.wordpress.com. Become his friend at Facebook,, follow him on Twitter.View the book trailer of The Stone Cutter Genius at www.americanbookpubishingblog.com/promote-yur-book-at-athnic-festivals or at www.authorcentral.amazon.com. Then click on Arthur Cola profile and click on video. Read his screenplay adaptations of his books at www.studios.amazon.com/arthurcola.)