“The destiny of the world is determined less by the battles that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in.”
So, Friday, March 2, was Texas Independence Day. That was the date in 1836 when 59 signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence met in a small blacksmith shop in Washington-on-the-Brazos (that, actually, is the name of the town) and made the commitment in writing to sever their political ties with Mexico and form a sovereign nation—the Republic of Texas.
This was going on, by the way, while the Alamo was under siege from the Mexican General, Santa Anna. The Mexican army’s final assault and victory at the Alamo happened on March 6 of the same year.
But the story didn’t end there. The revolutionary Texan army won THE decisive Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, thereby ending all subservient relations with Mexico.
So here are the decisive dates:
February 23, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna arrived in Texas to begin the Mexican assault on the Texas landscape.
March 2, the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed.
The Alamo fell on March 6.
General Sam Houston arrived in Gonzales on March 11 and was informed of the fall of the Alamo.
Houston began a series of retreats to buy time for his ill-prepared army before the final victorious battle at San Jacinto on April 21.
Okay, so again to recap the key dates—February 23, March 2, March 6, March 11, and April 21.
But something else happened in the meantime. Something you don’t read as much about in history books. Sometimes, it’s easy to believe that history is distinguished only by certain major events or by definitive battles. But in between the Major events, life happens.
After the siege of the Alamo began, Texas settlers began to panic. I mean, who wouldn’t panic? You’ve got the army of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna on the rampage across the Texas landscape. This army is after…You. You’ve already been harassed daily by unhappy Indians and by the encroaching Mexican governmental regulations, so now you’ve got to contend with actual invading government-backed armies.
What ensued is that Texan settlers fled their homes in a panic. They left nearly every accumulated possession behind and took only the bare essentials as they headed for perceived safety at the Sabine River near the Louisiana border. This was the place where Sam Houston was planning some kind of defense—offense…well, the jury is still out on that one.
The point is that many of these fleeing settlers burned their houses so that their possessions would not fall into the hands of the Mexican government. Other homes were burned by the invading Mexican army. Needless to say, lots of the homes were affected adversely.
The Runaway Scrape was fueled by crazed panic and dominated by total unpreparedness. Cold, rain, hunger, and disease accompanied the fleeing settlers. Many died and were buried right where they dropped. (The sad thing is that I can’t even find photographs or tin-type images of these beleaguered settlers. It’s as if they’ve been lost to time or never even existed. The following photograph has actually nothing to do with the Runaway Scrape, but it showed a bunch of frightened fleeing people, so…)
Victory was eventually secured by Sam Houston and his ragtag bunch of Texans at the Battle of San Jacinto. Santa Anna was taken prisoner and signed an admission of defeat. The settlers who had fled in terror were finally free to go back to homes that no longer existed or were in ruins. They went back to pick up the pieces of wrecked and interrupted lives.
It seems to me that our lives and our own personal histories, much like those of the Texas settlers, are determined not so much by the big historic events themselves—by the Alamo or by the Battle of San Jacinto…
By the 9/11s that have impacted us so greatly, by the major wars that have inconvenienced our lives or left us bereft of loved ones, by the constant battles in our homes and abroad, or by the births and the deaths in our own families—
But, rather, by our own fight or flight responses to these major events. By all the decisions and living that goes on in between.
I’ve lived my life through the Korean War, Vietnam, the Bosnian Conflict, the Gulf War, Iraq, and all the other international skirmishes and ethnic conflicts that have taken their toil in human lives and financial indebtedness, and I hope that I will endure whatever new wars are to come within my life span. But those events, as huge and significant as they were and are, have not determined the person I am or the history I have lived.
My life has been comprised mostly of the seemingly insignificant decisions I have made, the paths I’ve chosen each day, the fear I’ve allowed to dominate and hinder me, and the small steps I’ve managed to take despite those fears.
It’s all that hard work in the middle that seems to make a life. Or, at least, that has made up my life.
It seems that life is really all about the Hard In-Between. It’s about the people I encounter, the everyday lives I impact, the wrongs I correct, the sins I admit.
All those Runaway Scrapes of Daily Life. If we each think about our own lives, I think we’ll realize it’s the in-between rather than the historic events that have made us who we are, that have formed and measured our lives.
I am sure that there were a thousand stories in the Runaway Scrape, with no two alike. Each was unique and each heart-wrenching. The frightened, fleeing settlers had lives that were interrupted, changed, informed, damaged, enlarged, transformed.
I’m working on a novel that tells one of those stories. My story involves the effects and aftermath of a group of runaway slaves during the Runaway Scrape. It may not have actually happened as I am writing it. But it might have. It could have. It’s simply a question of What If…
For me, that is worth the creative energy it takes to tell it. It’s worth the paper and ink it takes to print it. I guess you could say it’s worth my time. After all, the answer to What If is really what a writer’s life is all about.
General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna
But storytelling is another kind of history that needs to be told and appreciated. Smaller stories—even fictional ones—can enlarge and illuminate history in a way that dry facts seem to circumvent and that may even disappoint.
Stories, as opposed to dry facts, bring history alive!
The stories of my life—the stories of your life—are not necessarily about the Main Events or about the news-worthy incidents. They are not always about the wars and the headlines. Our stories are comprised of all that Stuff in the middle. The small joys, the little triumphs, the daily sacrifices, the sadness that will never make the news. The seemingly mundane stuff of life.
But, I also believe that the cumulative effect of all that Stuff is a life well lived.
And that’s what we aim for, right?