Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
Excerpt from “Paul Revere’s Ride,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Two hundred and thirty-eight years ago tomorrow, Paul Revere rode from Boston toward Lexington and Concord to warn the people that the British were coming. Because of his warning, the Patriot Minutemen were ready and waiting when the British arrived early the next morning. The “shot heard round the world” was fired, and the American Revolution began.
I first heard Longfellow’s lyrical retelling of Paul Revere’s story in elementary school. The words were recorded in a short book, featuring shadowy paintings done in dark blues and greens. Two smudges of light appearing in a church tower, a man racing through the night on horseback—the drama of those scenes and the rhythm of the words stayed with me. I, and many others, still remember Paul Revere, though “hardly a man is now alive” who can testify to Revere’s actions.
Yet the most fascinating thing about Paul Revere’s story to me isn’t the drama of his story. Instead, it is the fact that he is considered a hero for delivering a message. Today, we tell the stories of the athletes, the cancer survivors, the war heroes—those on the front lines. We rarely even remember the messengers, the ones who tell those stories, much less make them into heroes.
As a writer, I’ve realized that certain messages have been placed on my heart. I try not to preach when I tell stories, but I do find that a number of themes appear in those stories again and again. Themes of hope. Of truth. Of self-acceptance. Of working through pain, guilt, or doubt. Of finding Home. These are the ideas I care about, that resonate with me deeply. And so they spill over into my writing.
And so—sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously—I find myself in the position of a messenger. That can occasionally be hard. I haven’t been placed in physical danger because of my messages like Paul Revere was, but I’ve still been afraid. Afraid that people will laugh or scoff or mock, that they won’t understand, or that they’ll ignore what I say altogether.
But a messenger is bound by duty, by loyalty, by love, to deliver the message regardless of people’s reactions. So I’ll continue telling my stories, in hopes that someday, my voice may be heard like Paul Revere’s, “a cry of defiance and not of fear, a voice in the darkness, a knock at the door, and a word that shall echo forevermore!”
What messages have been placed on your heart?
I thought I knew Revere’s story pretty well, but after a little research, I realized there were several gaps that Longfellow’s poem doesn’t fill in (or does so a little differently due to the requirements of rhythm and style). Here a few fun facts that I learned from “This Day in History,” courtesy of the History Channel:
- Revere didn’t ride alone. His friend William Dawes rode with him. They took separate routes to avoid being caught but reconnected in Lexington before warning Patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock together. I guess William Dawes just wasn’t as rhythmic a name as Paul Revere.
- After Revere left Lexington, he was actually captured by the British and questioned roughly for a few hours. It was another man, Samuel Prescott, who roused the men of Concord. (And Prescott had only been on hand because he ran into Revere and Dawes while returning home from visiting a lady friend “at the awkward hour of 1 a.m.”)
- The British leader, Major John Pitcairn, upon arriving in Lexington and finding the Minutemen assembled, ordered them to disperse. They had actually started to do so when a shot was fired from an unknown source, the shot later dubbed by Ralph Waldo Emerson as “the shot heard round the world.”