Tuesday, August 11, 2009

An Honest Man

So I cheated.

Our book group last month was supposed to read John Adams by David McCullough.

I had every intention to. I read fast. I chew through books. For some reason I only got to page 43 of the only 656 pages. I can do that in a day and a half...but not this one.

Not because it was dull or uninteresting... but because it was packed so full of fascinating information. I think I underlined more of the book than I read (is that possible?).

So, since I had to host book group the last Wed of July - I did what any kid in high school probably still does. Find a movie to watch about it.

My friends Netflix and HBO came to the rescue. It's a three-disc, 7 part, miniseries. I watched this with my husband. We were fascinated. It was rich with history, stellar acting (Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney) and heart.

In the discussion at book group - it turned out only one of our number had finished the entire book - just hours before our meeting. Even our discussion leader hadn't finished the book.

Some things came out... as I hadn't finished the last disc of the series. I thought Thomas Jefferson was an amazing character. I came to like him a lot through those first two discs. He was a polished man who was more comfortable writing words than oration. My friend who had read the book - totally disliked him. When I watched the third disc, I found a Jefferson I didn't like much.

John Adams on the other hand I respected. He was a man. A man who desired honesty, spoke frankly and thrived on action. I admire his vision, his fortitude and for his love of Abigail, his indomitable wife. I have to admit - I completely related to, and empathized with Adams. His style, honesty, and sometimes frustration at not being understood totally resonated with me.

I loved the friendship, devotion, and love John and Abigail had. I love that while he was a fiery, man of action who often spoke before he thought - he was willing to be chastised, lovingly by his wife. He would take her kind, criticisms to heart, and change. I loved that he valued her opinion above all others. I love that he needed her, and she needed him. I love that they were both people of strong morals, and deep courage.

I couldn't help but admire our forefathers of this great nation. To do the things they did to bring to life the birth of a new nation, while eeking out survival in a wild country - is nothing short of miraculous. I am grateful that our founders believed in, trusted in, and felt accountable to God.

I am grateful to John Adams' posterity. For the sacrifices they had to make so that their father could build a place of freedom. The book and miniseries deals so much with Adams' own family. It was poignant, and painful to watch. It struck home the simple fact - that yes, we can do great things, but at what cost? Each choice we make demands a sacrifice. We have to decide what we value most, and then - accept those consequences, good, or ill from our choices.

There's a scene where Adams is in France asking the French to help fight against the British. Adams is sitting at a lavish banquet hall with the elite of France. The contrast of an established, wealthy, gaudy country, versus our new, rough and tumble, poor country couldn't be starker. I think one of the French ladies asked Adams about art... or some such thing. He states so eloquently something to the effect that he doesn't have the luxury of studying art or music, he fights so that his sons and daughters will study law and commerce, and that their children will study finance and medicine so that their children will have the opportunity to study art and music. (I know this is a total hack-job of a memory - but you get the gist). Each generation stands on the other generation's shoulders... based on sacrifices each generation makes. It was a perfect response to the French who applauded Adams.

One of the other things I loved about this miniseries is the frankness of how things were done back in the 1700-1800s. There's no glamor - there's work, by the sweat of their brow. There's John Adams, after he's retired from serving as President of the United States, working in his own field, building his own fence, mending his own tools. For some reason I really, really like that. It makes me sad that someone of Adams' stature - the honest type - would never, ever get elected today. (I also hope to be proven wrong)

I also thought it was fascinating how we often hold our founding fathers on pedestals - at least I do. And watching this I discovered that sabotage, politics as usual, and power-grabbing were greatly alive during their time. Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson were effective in their use of slyness, and the politics that we despise in our leaders today. It was sad to see that our great war general, George Washington was easily manipulated by Alexander Hamilton in matters of politics.

After we became a new nation, Hamilton for his part wanted war, when France needed our help for their failed revolution. Why? Because it would bolster his party's grab for the Presidency. He even promoted a national debt to keep the federal gov't powerful. I understand certain things were needed... it's the intention, the ambition, that disturbs me. Human nature - hasn't changed.

It was sobering to find out that the media of today was not much different than the media of yesterday. Still sniping, still tearing down, still utterly biased, still completely powerful.

Remember that painting... that revered, famous "Signing of the Declaration of Independence" piece of art by John Trumbull?

Yeah... Adams' hated it. It was something he knew would twist the truth of reality. I'd always operated on the assumption that the signing happened, just like in this picture. All the delegates in a hot, humid, suffocating room. Turns out when the declaration was signed our new country was at war. The signers were running in an out of the city during a dangerous time, signing their names on this document penned by Thomas Jefferson. Not only that - it took great courage to do so. For if we had not been victorious against England, they would be tried, and put to death as traitors to the crown.

I also loved this comment in the movie where after John Adams is President and one of his colleagues says something like "you should be proud - the people are with you." John Adams responds with something like "just because the mob are with you doesn't make them less of a mob."

Watching this, learning and relearning things I had forgotten - made me incredibly grateful. Grateful for this blessed country, with it's faults, and possibilities. I am grateful for the men, and the even more amazing women like Abigail, who counciled their husbands wisely, and raised the next generation of citizens, grateful because I have the privilege of living in this great nation.

The closing quote from John Adams hit home. We show our gratitude for them - the great men, women and children who sacrificed their lives - and for this freedom we take for granted, all freely given... by exercising, protecting, and sharing it.

"No, posterity, you will never know how much it cost us to preserve your freedom. I hope that you make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it."
- John Adams


cabesh said...

I love John Adams. I wrote an essay on him in 5th grade for a DAR essay contest (which I won by the way :) ) and have adored him ever since. When my grandpa passed away I inherited his John Adams book....it's on my to-read. After reading your post I'm thinking I should bump it up to the front.

Queen Scarlett said...

Cabesh - awesome! Do you still have that essay? Would be fun to read. ;-) And... I'm still working on it. If you decide to... the miniseries is moving.

Holli said...

I haven't read the book yet, but I did watch the miniseries about a year ago. It was very well done and I enjoyed it a lot. I thought the miniseries was a little over the top painting John Adams to be THE MAN who did everything to start this country. I do admire all that he sacrificed and his supportive wife. It's crazy to realize how much was given up for this country. I am so thankful for great people that whether I agree with their politics or not were willing to sacrifice and work hard for what they thought was right.

Queen Scarlett said...

Holli - I guess I didn't get that from the miniseries... I knew we would spend a lot on John Adams ...given it's about him - but I saw him more as a passionate, action kind of a guy. He seemed constantly in motion. He was a man of action and needed to get things done. I could totally relate to that.

Nothing drives me more crazy than sitting around waiting for something to happen, or just babbling about something... action baby!

I totally agree with you about what he gave up... broke my heart...for the kids he had.

Stepper the Mighty said...

Very insightful post. Thanks so much for sharing this! I am ashamed to admit that I've fallen prey to the painting (and the play) that depicts the Declaration being signed by solemn men in a sweltering room. I respected that - but running into town in the middle of War to possibly sign your death warrant? Dang.

I now must rent that miniseries and watch it with my hub. We're both moved by patriotism and annoyed by biased media - and this sounds like an experience NOT to miss.

Besides - the play made me hate Abigail. Most likely because the actress who played her had a very annoying voice and manner. I tried to like her, really! But see, now I need to see the series to cure my unfair bias against her. Sounds like she was quite a woman.