“Why you write ten times better than any man in Congress… including me. For a man of 33 years, you possess a happy talent for composition and a remarkable felicity of expression.”– John Adams
Part of what I love about the summer involves some of our country’s core holidays that were created to help us remember that freedom comes with a price. Memorial Day is seen as the start of summer, with Labor Day bringing it to a close as schools and universities resume. Tucked in between is probably the most substantial of these celebrations, the 4th of July.
We’ve all studied it in school, but history has always kept events at an arm’s length for me. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve gained a perspective for just how short of a time ago these events happened when compared to the rest of the world. America is such a new country and while 238 is enough to encompass three to four generations, that’s still a relatively small chunk of history.
More so, I often forget to humanize these historic figures that made up the story. People like George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson seemed almost mythological, so ancient, so removed.
In 10th grade American History we watched the theatrical version of 1776, starring William Daniels as John Adams who we all cheered for because of our obsession with Boy Meets World. It may just be my sense of humor, but that movie / musical is so entertaining and the songs instantly stick in my head, so I try to DVR it when it airs in early July and watch it every year around the 4th.
As I mentioned, the soundtrack is classic (even if the recording is missing the original Benjamin Franklin due to illness). Recently, as I was driving, SiriusXM’s “On Broadway” played the track “But, Mr. Adams,” where John Adams and the rest of the committee discuss who should pen what is to become the “Declaration of Independence” so the Continental Congress can finally vote on whether or not to pursue freedom from King George’s tyranny.
As they go from man to man, each with his own excuse as to why he should not be the one to write it, they finally end up at Thomas Jefferson. That’s why Adams, known for being pompous, tries to butter Jefferson up with compliments, including the quote you see above.
I’ve seen the movie at least a half-dozen times and listened to the tracks more than that, but this time, as I was driving, Jefferson’s age struck me. It’s probably because I’ll be turning 32 in 12 days, but I never quite grasped how young Jefferson was. As a 33 year old, he wrote one of the world’s most historical documents, starting a chain of events that have shaped the global infrastructure for nearly two and a half centuries. Further, that wasn’t his first accomplishment. He’d already become known as a great scholar.
It’s simply astounding.
It made me reflect on what my accomplishments have been over 32 years. Not surprisingly, in comparison, my life has very little impact to those around me, let alone the world. I know I’ve had a little impact at least in my own circle of friends, but nothing on the scale of what Jefferson had done.
Yes, life has changed a lot over the past 238 years. Adults in their 30’s are barely adults at all. It’s not uncommon for us to be single and still seeking our ideal career, having just finished our schooling.
Still, it made me feel a bit unaccomplished in my life. What have I done that’s so great? What mark have I left?
Are those questions you’ve asked yourself? How did you answer? I’d love to know, so please leave your thoughts in the comments below.