I’ve been having a “John Adams” festival lately. While watching the HBO series by the same name I am reminded that John Adams was often irascible, outspoken and disliked. He also was passionate and filled with duty. I can relate to him. I admire his eloquence:
I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.
His words still reverberate in the American lexicon – as will these words spoken by Barack Obama on January 20, 2009 :
So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
“Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive… that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”
America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back, nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.
John Adams also said “You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket.” (From the biography “John Adams” by David McCullough – p. 19 -giving advice to his son Johnny) Is it any wonder that the words from January 20, 2009 that I keep repeating over and over in my mind and heart are from Elizabeth Alexander’s Inaugural poem “Praise Song For the Day”.
“On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp…”
Those words evoke my students in my mind and heart. In this “winter of our hardship” I pray our “hope and virtue” sustain and inspire all of us.