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My turn, Steven Arey: We are all caretakers of city’s history

By Steven Arey

I attended a funeral Friday for a fellow veteran who was 97. There was a procession of motorcades, honor guards and participants from as far away as New York to provide a monument and lay to rest a fellow soldier with an American flag representing a fraternity that will never forget her.

A few decades before this veteran was born, another monument, “Fame,” was being unveiled by a Salisbury native Francis Christine Fisher Tiernan, whose father Colonel Charles Fisher was killed in action during the Civil War along with 620,000 others.

When the South sounded its “call to arms,” Charles Fisher spared neither time nor money in the cause of the Confederacy. At his own personal expense, he equipped a regiment of men from Salisbury who followed him eagerly into action at the battle of Manassas on July 21, 1861. Fort Fisher is appropriately named in remembrance of him.

Fisher’s daughter, who took the pen name Christian Reid after the devastation of war, found herself the head of her family of two siblings. She became an accomplished and notable novelist and the first person of either sex in the South to receive the Laetare Medal from Notre Dame University. Her acceptance speech is certainly appropriate today. She said:

As in everything human there is both a soul and a body, so we find the soul of art in its relation to the great law of ethics, and those who awarded this medal are well aware that there is no greater fallacy, no more destructive principle working in our time than the belief that art stands apart from ethics. Of nothing in our complex existence when we cannot stir a flower without troubling a star, can that be said, and least of all of art. For the largeness of art depends upon its power of drawing into itself and giving expression to all the vital emotions of humanity, and the ethical emotion is not only one of these, but it is the most vital.

When it is ignored or decried, the literature which is the result has, under whatever beauty of idea or form it may possess, the unmistakable note of decadence. There is in it no uplifting power, no lesson to be learned that will help us in the struggle of life, but on the contrary an insidious, often an open teaching of bitterness, of futile revolt against the conditions which surround our existence.

The writers who produce this literature are frequently described as realists, but their realism is as false as their philosophy, since that is no realism which paints only the darkest side of human life, which ignores the sunlight, and which is blind to the value of the lessons that may be learned from failure and suffering. Of one thing we may be distinctly sure, the art which declines to acknowledge a divine purpose as the key to the riddle of man’s existence signs its own sentence of extinction.

For looking back over the wide field of literature, of the best which man has thought and said in all languages, we find that nothing survives the destroying touch of time save that which is in harmony with the eternal verities.

Salisbury is the history of those who came before us — of that time and that life. We are the caretakers of that history now speaking for those who can not.

The biography of Francis Christine Tiernan, who is buried in Chestnut Hill Cemetery, can be read at the Rowan Public Library.

Steven Arey lives in Salisbury.

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