Friday, April 27, 2012

April 27, 2012

Journey to Matanzas
(a bit long; bear with me :-)

Just beyond the asphalt parking lot and modern conveniences
Rises a trail, a rough network of planks leading to my destination
A shocking jolt from old to new . . . I step on the boardwalk
And find myself disappearing deeper into the Florida wilds.

My feet tap along the boardwalk as I keep alert for wildlife
Trees of native ancestry rise high; brush tangles down below
Only the boardwalk keeps me from the wild undergrowth
Graceful palmetto branches slap against the railing.

The sky is blasphemously blue, past sufferings forgotten
The air, humid, warm, and gentle, smells of plants and sunshine
Tap, tap. My feet pound a staccato rhythm along with my heart
As I unwrap a paper lovingly jotted with French prayers.

With modern conveniences stripped away, only Florida remains
Primordial, overbearing, and merciless . . . the scene is set
Apart from the boardwalk, it must have looked much like this
When over two hundred French soldiers chose faith over freedom.

I stop alongside a fat green branch, noting nature’s beauty;
A large butterfly with black, gold-specked wings nests quietly
Oblivious to the aching memories of this hallowed ground
Flitting shyly from leaf to leaf under the shimmering mid-day heat.

As I walk, I grow discouraged, for the trail is longer than I thought
I wonder if I must have taken a wrong turn along the way
Yet a sudden buzzing in my soul and spirit, Protestant solidarity
Alerts me that I am near. My pulse races and my steps hasten.

I “recognize” this part of the trail from photographs and descriptions
I turn a corner, and there it is, a broad yellow marker well-weathered
“The Massacre at Matanzas” it says, that marker stained and faded
Down below the boardwalk, surrounded by a tangle of woodland.

The scene depicted is too clean, too inoffensive to modern sensibilities
I see Frenchmen kneeling in nondescript loose shirts; one lies dead
The man in red is, I think, meant to be Jean Ribault, recently betrayed
While a soldier in black --- likely Pedro Menéndez --- waits atop the dunes.

“More victims,” he seems to say. The marker also shows a Spanish soldier.
Calm and decidedly unbothered, dressed in armor, he patiently awaits
The arrival of more Frenchmen. They can be seen crossing the inlet in tens.
But there is no blood. No pathos. Just a cold, unemotional scene presented.

A marker cannot convey the terror or the prayers that crossed desperate lips
Nor the martyrs’ mixture of aching, desperate fear and steadfast faith
It cannot conjure the Spaniards’ calls to convert or the Huguenots’ firm denial
It does not show the contemptible scene of men’s hands tied behind their backs.

This marker cannot paint the scene vividly enough to imagine the injustice
It is inadequate to portray a massacre of such heart-wrenching dimensions
Yet it is something . . . a light in the darkness, a reminder of an event forgotten
I stand in awe, for I have seen it many times, but never in person.

There is a small marker down below, nearly lost in palmetto-strewn underbrush
Sunlight streaks through the trees, angelically illuminating the stone slab
“Massacre by Menendez of Ribault and his men, September 1565,” it says
No nonsense. No fuss. Nothing special, just a bare-bones reminder.

Yet there were in fact two massacres, one in September and one in October
Ribault died in October. The old marker has stood the test of time
And is decidedly better than leaving this area forgotten by human hearts
But provides conflicting information that tugs painfully at my spirit.

There is a bench along the boardwalk directly in front of the markers
I might stop and sit awhile, but I am restless and seeking
I take note of the tall, slender trees with crooked-tendril branches
And a prickly palmetto stand below; the scene has changed very little.

A tiny black-and-silver cross, gem-studded, rests between my fingers
I close my eyes and whisper the Lord’s Prayer in French as best I can
Then I tenderly commit the cross to the ever-changing palate of nature
And gaze out through the tangle of underbrush in silent benediction.

Retracing my steps and turning right, I find a platform over the dunes
Here is where the massacre took place . . . as far as we will ever know
Here, nearly two hundred and fifty souls were cruelly slaughtered
Simply for being born French and loving the Protestant creed.

It is quiet now. The rivers of Matanzas Inlet are deceptively calm
A few beach-houses across the inlet lie in ignorance of history
The dunes rise before me, entangled by bushes and plant growth
Here the sand was red with blood that ran in rivers.

Here the martyrs gave their lives for the faith they held dear
Choosing the kingdom of God over the freedoms of earth
Glorying the Lord by holding firm to their beliefs
And refusing to submit even in the face of death.

Two emotions play conflictingly in my heart
As I look out over those placid dunes soaked in the Holy Spirit
I am filled with pride for my own Protestant creed
For they had faith, courage, and strength to make such a sacrifice.

Yet the injustice once again rears its ugly head when I ponder
The New World they sought and the dreams they could have fulfilled
They wanted only to live free and prosper in the land called La Floride
To escape the rigors of persecution that old France delivered daily.

How achingly ironic that their journey to freedom might end this way
In a martyrdom only imagined on the blooded streets of vieux France
Having fulfilled my mission, I turn back to leave, each step heavy
Bringing me closer to the hum and squeal of everyday civilization.

Yet while I might be leaving the haunted shores of Matanzas
I am certain they will never leave me; the dunes call to me
My spiritual ancestors beckon brokenly so I might remember
So I might honor and cherish their memory and never let them truly die.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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