To celebrate the Fourth weekend, the Atlantic speaks

Published 10:38 am Friday, July 4, 2014

by John Railey

I’ve long felt that our Atlantic Ocean embodies our country. What would it say to us?

I am your first and defining sea. On any given day, over the hundreds of miles of my United States coastline, I reflect the boresome bestiality and the wild beauty, the disparate moods and colors of your still new nation, as I range from calm blue to battleship gray whipped wild with raging waves. I reflect your cunning, courage, cowardice and all else.

I know of gunpowder, guts and glory, of bombs bursting in air and old men’s war dreams gone spare. I know of lights blinking on in the darkest of nights and others shutting off when you most need them. I can be anything from majestic to miserly, depending upon my moods, just as you can. I can be horrible in my death-dealing fury or magnanimous in my gentleness, just as you can.

Anyone who would study American freedom should gaze upon me. Imagine how your forefathers saw me. I haven’t changed. I am wild and limitless and free and beautiful and as mean in a storm as the torrents of hell unfurled.

I carried the first white men to your shores and tried to remind you with many a hellish storm that the American Indians were there long before you. I watched your explorers in what you would come to call North Carolina, Virginia and all the rest battle my best and sail into the wondrous rivers and tidewaters of the new land, warring with the Indians.

I bore your slaves in your ship holds in the vomit and crap and chains to which you forced them. I bore British soldiers over to fight you in the Revolutionary War, and I carried your emissaries to France to gather your support for that war.

I carried your Union and Confederate ships to rain havoc on each other as they tore the fabric of your nation asunder, then, wondrously, somehow weaved it back together.

I carried your forces to two world wars, scared boys who became men in the wild storms.

I carried their children and grandchildren to several other wars and brought home their flag-draped coffins.

I bear your vessels of commerce and your fishing boats that feed from my belly. Your fishermen are some of the toughest and bravest I have ever seen. They rejoice in my bounty even as they endure the worst storms I can give them.

You defend your turf “from sea to shining sea,” and that is as it should be.

The Pacific is great indeed. But I am where you began and where you still face some of your major issues. I know well your Statue of Liberty, and I have carried countless refugees to your shores, some rejected, others allowed.

I know your pain and promise just as surely as a Marine of American Indian descent shipping out of Camp Lejeune, maybe headed for Iraq, again.

I will carry him and all the rest to your next war. The rest of you, this summer, as always, will party by my wild and wonderful shore, maybe gazing out at all the hope I offer. I belong to you all and I belong to the world.

Some of your troops, possibly bound for war in the near future, will be on furlough before they go. Some will hang out in your coastal bars, tattooed boys becoming men facing an uncertain fate, chugging beer and chasing girls, as they should. Some have been overseas before and they don’t want to return. Some may not make it home, or come home lost physically or mentally.

So buy them a beer and wish them good cheer before I take them to fates terribly uncertain. Pray that I return them safely to this free and loving land of hearts breaking and healing that is so much theirs.

JOHN RAILEY, is a Courtland native and the editorial page editor of the Winston-Salem Journal. His email address is