There is a bend in the Tallapoosa River that leaves the image of a horseshoe on my map of east-central Alabama. In that river bend is a national military park memorializing the battle that took place there more than 200 years ago. It was a battle between not only white settlers and native Americans but also amongst separate tribes of Creek and Cherokee who could not find a way to stand united against the tide of expansion that ultimately meant the end of a way of life for all native Americans. 

It’s a personal spot for me. I’ve been coming to this riverbank for as long as I can remember. My family’s roots are here, and there is a peace here for me that I have not found anywhere else on this earth. The trees have a sound that is barely a whisper. The river runs still and slow, like a sigh. Sitting here with pen and paper is as natural to me as breathing. It’s been a while — I’ve missed it. 

It was the news this morning that made it impossible not to come here today. More video footage of armies of people flocking into America at our southern border, faces covered and eyes averted, marching in as if there were no border at all. And maybe there’s not. Not anymore. 

Crossing into America illegally is not a new problem. Groups of desperate men and women, sometimes with children, have crossed the desert and hidden among the trees waiting for a chance to slip across unnoticed under a moonless sky day after day for years. But that doesn’t happen anymore. Now they come into our United States, these illegal immigrants, in large and loud groups, under the bright sun, as if they are on a noonday hike, unconcerned about repercussions that come from breaking our law … because there are no repercussions anymore. 

If you watch the news at all, notice this: Many of these illegal trespassers carry the flag of their country. They speak no English. They know nothing of our history, or our culture or our laws. And they don’t care to learn. They are here to get what they want with no regard for the citizens who call America home.

And our political “leadership” is rewarding them for it. In fact, there is now talk of giving each of these illegal trespassers a hefty monetary reward, funded by all of us law-abiding, tax-paying citizens. Meanwhile, nurses and first responders, last year’s heroes during the pandemic, are being forced out of jobs they’ve held for years.

It’s hard to watch, so I turned off the television and drove myself away from all that insanity. 

Driving up 280, my thoughts were of my Dad’s great grandparents who came here from Europe. They must have had an abundance of legitimate reasons to flee their country, but they came to America the right way. They followed the steps our country requires to become an American, and they did it happily and gratefully. They were better people for it, and our country was a better place for having them here. This country was built on brave people like my dad’s family, millions of them.

Now that I’m here by the bend in the river, I can think only of the other side of my family. My mother’s grandparents and great-grandparents and generations before them were all native Americans. They were Creeks and they were Cherokees. Some of them lived and fought and died right here where I am sitting on the shore of the Tallapoosa.

What must they have felt when they looked beyond their village and saw a parade of people bearing another country’s flag, speaking a strange-sounding language and bringing a lifetime of prejudice and ill will? How wounded and heartsick must they have been as disease and treachery and murder spread quicker with every stranger who entered? How desperate were they when they realized these strangers had every intention of taking the land these natives had lived on for centuries? How helpless must they have been when they realized their own leadership was faltering and weak?

I think I’m getting a glimpse of what that must have been like. I think we all are.

It is a sorrowful irony that repeats itself over time.

If this river could speak, imagine the stories it could tell. Think of the human drama it has witnessed down the ages. If I close my eyes, I can sometimes hear it. What will the river have to say to my children and grandchildren? What will our country look like after I’m long gone?

God help America.