Friday, March 16, 2012

American Action Heroes: Lessons from Abigail Adams

"My bursting heart must find vent at my pen."  ~Abigail Adams

"Darkness is a harsh term don't you think?  And yet, it dominates the things I see."  ~Mumford and Sons

“It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed.”~Abigail Adams

“Great difficulties may be surmounted by patience and perseverance.” ~Abigail Adams

In the midst of misery, I look round for an example to follow, a Historical Role Model who epitomizes the Characteristics I most admire.  Why is it important to have a Hero in these times that try my soul?  Well, I'll tell you.  Because when I'm hurt and confused I lose my focus.  I'll be honest.  Today is terrible.  My attention span is shot.  Reading is rough going.   Even writing this blog post is a challenge.   If I allow myself just an inch of wiggle room, I descend into a Torrent of Tears and end up gulping, gasping for air, and hiccuping like a drunk (Disgusting!).  In hopes avoiding that particular outcome, I'm tiptoeing around the edges of the Rabbit Hole.  Praying for perseverance and knowing that I can neither avoid my heartache nor dwell on it fully.  Instead, I find myself living in Purgatory.  Obviously, I should have purchased a few more Indulgences from my Catholic neighbors.  Maybe that would have allowed me to skip this Special Hell.  So what is a Distracted and Distraught Lady of Academia to do?  Well, this Imaginative (and Crazy) Historian is pulling out one of her favorite American Action Heroes (Previously, I discussed why Henry Clay Rocks it Like a Hurricane): Abigail Adams.

Abigail and John Adams
What?  You're surprised?  Well, don't be.  Old Abigail was the bomb!  Not only was our Dear Abby the wife of John Adams, the second President of these United States and mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of our Great Nation, but she was also well educated, brilliant, and politically active using her influence to advocate women's rights during the the 1770s (more specifically married women's property rights and educational opportunities for ladies).  In fact, throughout her marriage to John Adams, this Rockin' Unitarian refused to play the role of the Simple-Minded Homemaker.  Instead, throughout the couple's courtship and marriage, the Two Lovers exchanged a copious number of letters in which they discussed, not only matters of the heart, but also intellectual subjects such as definitions of freedom, systems and rights of government, and American slavery.  Abigail was her husband's equal, both his challenger and his champion admonishing him: “Its never to late to get back on your feet though we wont live forever make sure you accomplish what you were put here for.”   During a period when white women were considered the economic and political dependents of their male counterparts this was quite an achievement.  But, I'll be honest, what I find most endearing is the couple's admiration and adoration for each other. 

For instance, just consider the pet names that Abby and her Spouse adopted.  You see, John referred to Abigail as his Diana (the Roman goddess of the moon) and in return, Abigail chose the pen name, Portia after the wife of the great Roman politician Brutus. (John, for his part, picked the name Lysander, after the Spartan general who defeated Athens in the Peloponnesian War).   His letters address Abigail as either  "Dear Adoreable" or "My dear Diana," or "My Dearest Portia," while hers always refer to John as "My Dearest Friend."  To understand the love embodied in that phrase see the quote below:

“You tell me that you sometimes view the dark side of your Diana, and there no doubt you discover many Spots which I rather wish were erased, than conceal'd from you. Do not judge by this, that your opinion is an indifferent thing to me, (were it so, I should look forward with a heavey Heart,) but it is far otherways, for I had rather stand fair there, and be thought well of by Lysander than by the greater part of the World besides. I would fain hope that those faults which you discover, proceed more, from a wrong Head, than a bad Heart. E'er long May I be connected with a Friend from whose Example I may form a more faultless conduct, and whose benevolent mind will lead him to pardon, what he cannot amend.” 

Goddess Diana
Perhaps that is what I find so comforting and beautiful about the couple.  Theirs was a connection of both the heart and the mind.  Let's be honest, no one looks at a picture of either Abigail or John and concludes: "Gawd, I wanna tap that!"  But to each other, they were Diana and Lysander, a Roman Goddess and a Spartan Warrior.  The epitomes of Feminine Beauty and Male Prowess.  In my mind, there is such truth in that.  Love, at least for me, is about the heart and the mind.  And the letters, aw, nothing is more romantic than letters because in them we reveal who we are, what we think, and how we feel. That is intimacy, my friends.  Therein lies lasting affection.  Everything else will fade.  Just the Right Application of Makeup, the Perfect Restaurant, the Sexiest Dress, the Nice Cologne, all those things are peripheral and ultimately worthless.  You see, I've a secret: The way I know I'm falling for another person comes down to one point: I love talking to him and desire his presence.  Like Abigail, I believe: "that a person's intelligence is directly reflected by the number of conflicting points of view he can entertain simultaneously on the same topic."  For the most part, in my mind, most men are rather boring.  Oh nice enough for awhile but I can't imagine having them in my house or around too often.  They'd just be under foot.  It takes someone special to move me.  So you see, the moment I know my heart is lost is the moment when I sit expectantly waiting for the next email, my heart pounding, my lips parted, and my mind fluttering with both feelings of fear and exhilaration...and in that moment, he becomes my Lysander.  Most men lack the ability to make the transformation so when it happens I know how rare and magical it is.  Of course, my problem is that Abigail left me no blueprint for being a Diana.  I'm very sure I'm not one.  There are so many "spots" on my character.  And are my "Dark Spots" like Abigail's?  Failings of the Head?  Or are they more serious failings of the Heart? I'm afraid I've nothing positive to add.  Its been a rough day.  

*If any reader is considering watching HBO's mini series on John Adams, starring Paul Giammatti and Tom Wilkinson, here is a very helpful review of the production and its historical accuracy.

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