Nobody Knows: Today is Bunker Hill Day. In fact…right now as I look out at a full moon, it’s almost over. Not many people really care in this day and age about the Battle of Bunker Hill…but we should.
We should, because it was on June 17, 1775, that America found out it could actually stand up to a bunch of elite tyrants---tyrants who seemed insurmountable.
The British were already in Boston when the people got wind of the fact that General Thomas Gage, the British Commander, was going to take the hills around the Boston harbor.
On the night of June 16, 1775, a force of about 1200 men, under the command of Col. William Prescott took ready on Breed Hill, as it was then called. The next morning, Gage sent about 3,000 men under the orders of William Howe to take the hill. Due to lack of ammunition, Prescott ordered:
“Don’t shoot, until you see the whites of their eyes!”
Up the hill the British went, but didn’t get far to their surprise. A second assault was commanded…again---beaten back.
During this time the poor village of Charlestown upon Howe’s orders was being completely destroyed by cannons.
On the third try, the British succeeded to take the hill, only because our men ran out of ammunition. The British lost 1,054 men, the Americans lost 430. A ragtag team of our minute men would have defeated the well trained British army but for lack of ammunition.
And that’s me, standing on Bunker Hill last year. I begged a tourist to take my picture because about that time, I was totally exhausted and needed an excuse to rest.
That morning, I had taken a forty-five minute subway ride from Braintree, done the tour of the Freedom Trail, and at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, realized that across the harbor was the Bunker Hill Monument and the sun was going to set at five.
Now---if you are in south Boston, that monument across the river doesn’t exactly look like it’s an easy trot. I certainly didn’t have money for a cab. I ask a man how long it would take to walk to it and he laughed.
“I suggest you just take a picture and say you were there.”
But to not to go to Bunker Hill was not an option. I knew I might never again get this close in my lifetime…so I ran.
There I went, running with all my forty-pound bags, up one side of the river, over the bridge, through the hilly neighborhoods, up more hills, until I finally arrived around 4pm.
I was amazed that I had made it. I was even more amazed when I found out you could take the steps to the top of the monument. The last thing I wanted to do at that point was drag my tired body up a narrow staircase, it was starting to get dark. But once again….to not do it was NOT an option.
Why? Because I had my own Bunker Hill to conquer---a blackness called “depression.”
In our society, depression is commonly known as a “mental illness.” But I beg to differ. With that definition we would have to say that Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Samuel Becket, Marlon Brando, Barbara Bush, Truman Capote, Drew Carey, Jim Carrey, Dick Clark, Ty Cobb, Rodney Dangerfield, Sheryl Crow, Ellen DeGeneres, Harrison Ford, July Garland, Ernest Hemingway, Audrey Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, Billy Joel, Elton John, Claude Monet, Marilynn Monroe, Alanis Morissette, Laurence Olivier, Dolly Parton, General George S. Patton, Cole Porter, Bonnie Raitt, Yves Saint Laurent, Rod Steiger, Spencer Tracy, Kurt Vonnegut, Mike Wallace, Tennessee Williams, Franz Kafka, Danny Kaye, John Lennon, Jack London, Tom Wolfe, Natalie Wood, and Boris Yelstin…were all mentally ill.
All of them by definition…not fit for prime time. Na-da. Nuts. Wacko. Idiots. Not to be trusted or listened to, as opposed to people who don’t suffer from depression like Alec Baldwin, Michael Moore, Nancy Pelosi and Paris Hilton.
Onto that list I would include many others who don’t profess to suffer, but obviously do to some extent. Men like Glenn Beck, and Stephen King.
This “black dog” as Winston Churchill called his moments of despair, usually comes and goes, and I can tell you, when it comes, you better bunker your hills boys, man the battle stations, and don’t shoot till you see the whites of their eyes, because it’s a major battle not to succumb to your own thoughts.
Some, like Hemingway and Monroe, did not survive their battles.
When I read the words not too long ago, written by John Quincy Adams: “My whole life has been a succession of disappointments. I can scarcely recollect a single instance of success to anything that I have ever undertook.” I instantly recognized an exact replication of my own thoughts.
And why not? My great-great grandmother Francis Adams was a descendant of that family. It’s as if JQA’s gloomy disposition was embedded in my very DNA.
I wish I could tell you that the fact that this “mental” illness was handed down from the likeness of such great men makes me feel better, (It runs throughout the bloodline) but the truth is, when in these states of attack, like JQA once said, “to lie down and die is a privilege denied.”
Oh…he was so right.
But, here’s the good news. The Battle of Bunker Hill teaches us that you can fight against great odds, and survive.
Like my ancestors before me, I have bravely fought every horrible battle, without the support of alcohol, or drug addiction, or promiscuous sex…and have survived the bunkers of the deepest hells. No enemy was more fierce than myself.
Why am I telling you about this? Why compare Bunker Hill with my own “mental” illness?
Because we all have our Bunker Hills; some just have more than others. Battles of war, battles of the mind…it’s a matter of survival.
To quote the enclycolpia Britannica: “Bunker Hill, taught the American colonists in 1775 that the odds against them in the enterprise in which they embarked were not so overwhelming as to deny them all prospect of ultimate success.”
Think about that. Don’t most of us feel that way now? That the odds against the America we all know and love seem overwhelming?
Abigail Adams once wrote to John Adams during those trying times--- “I feel anxious for the fate of our monarchy or democracy, or whatever is to take place. I soon get lost in a labyrinth of perplexities; but, whatever occurs, may justice and righteousness be the stability of our times, and order arise out of confusion. Great difficulties may be surmounted by patience and perseverance.”
What a gal she was, huh? Justice, righteousness, order, perseverance: words that should be repeated constantly to every child.
Today was Bunker Hill day, 2008. It was also my birthday. I was also born by some cosmic coincident on June 17th, 1952. Knowing myself, it's a perfect fit.
Today, I bought a lottery ticket, had two cupcakes that I shouldn’t have had, and thought about the brave men who died on Bunker Hill so long ago. I thought about the soldiers now fighting in Iraq, some of them fighting their own Bunker Hills of depression.
But if history tells us anything, maybe it’s that if we just Bunker our Hills, and hold on like Abigail said…who knows what miracles can happen?
In fact, at this point in our history, I don't think there is any other option, do you?