A butterfly can flap its wings, according to the lore of chaos, and it can stir a hurricane on the other side of the globe.
So: could a president lose his life on one great landmass, causing an acre of its bulk to take up residence on another continent all together?
He did. And it could, and did. But the story began further back, a long, long time ago, when Liberty was just a squalling babe.
In 1215 a sad apology for a king signed a piece of paper on the banks of the Thames in England. He was tolerated by the barons simply because there was no-one else to fill his expensive shoes. An army of considerable might was camped there, while King John put his name to what became the Magna Carta.
It is not the English who have commemorated this with any pomp, but the Americans. Runnymede, by the river, houses a number of memorials. The American Bar Association’s is mighty indeed: a rotunda, a domed monument with a ceiling painted blue and covered in stars. Here, it declares, freedom, under law, was born.
The soft squelch of a wax seal: and almost eight centuries later, we marvel at the effects of this temporal butterfly. America traces a direct line from its constitution to the law enshrined by King John’s seal, that day.
The monument is but a stone’s throw from the most extraordinary phenomenon: an acre of America overlooking the Thames.
It commemorates the loss of a president.
And not just any president, but an Arthurian one: a golden leader who gathered knights about him as the old English king had done so at Camelot.President John Kennedy, the 35th president, lost his life on November 22nd, 1963.
Faced with the enormity of events, the British Parliament met to discuss how to help the American people mourn their leader’s death. Not only that: but how could they show their deep rooted conviction that Kennedy lost his life defending that very same liberty set by a wax seal centuries before?
By December 10th, it was decided. An acre of land at Runnymede would be gifted to America. And on it would be set a monument, so that liberty and its great cost might never be forgotten.
It was brilliant August sunshine which met us on that hill today. We parked and walked to a gate at its foot: and the moment we stepped through, we were on American soil.
Every step of the way holds symbolism. It is little short of a sacred walk, modelled on John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Granite setts, each totally individual, form the winding path; there are 50 steps, to represent each state in the USA.
The memorial stone, made of Portland Stone estimated to be about 100 million years old, carries an inscription including a passage of Kennedy’s inaugural address delivered in 1961.It sits on a pad of granite to represent the shoulders of the many. Behind the stone is a tree whose leaves turn blood-red every November, an American Scarlet Oak.
The only people there were Maddie and I. The rabbits fed tranquilly on the other side of the site’s ha-ha, a ditch to keep out animals. The sun shone down on an acre which is artfully fostered as a wilderness, with great flat stone seats and a vista taking in the hustle of the Thames below, and the road through Runnymede.
Time has rendered this place timeless. A reflection of freedom. A pause in the busy world below.
Because a butterfly can flap its wings, and stir a hurricane on the other side of the globe.