The Things Unspoken

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

– John Adams-

The park ranger welcoming us to the old house at Peacefield wore a twine and bead necklace snug against his neck. I noticed it before he turned and unlocked the door to the library that John Quincy Adams son built for him.

He’d asked, in his will, that the library be built of stone, and the son complied — eventually. It took Charles Adams twenty-two years to do it, but the library, known as the Stone Library, stands today as a testament to thought and detail that went into the construction.

It houses over 12,000 volumes of books, floor to ceiling, all around, that belonged to Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams.

The book I noticed was The Memoir of Jeremiah Mason. It was shelved on the west wall. I’m not sure why it stood out from all the thousands of others. Books that were read by John Adams and his son. I’d never heard of Jeremiah Mason, a Yale graduate, and Senator from New Hampshire, who, I’m guessing, signed his copy of those memoirs and gifted them to his friend.

John Quincy Adams was fluent in seven languages but he read in seventeen languages. Now that is what I’d call a learned man.

Standing in that library, looking at the desks used by John Adams and John Quincy Adams, our second and sixth presidents, I kept thinking about all those books, and imagining what it must be like to have read the bulk of them. The depth and scope of one’s thinking broadened by the stories and experiences of others. The Adams were practicing multi-cultural learning long before anyone coined the term.

He died in the house next door to the stone library, although it wasn’t yet built, John Adams did. On July 4, 1826. Independence Day. Fifty years after he and his friend, and eventual nemesis, Thomas Jefferson, drafted this nation’s Declaration of Independence.

They fought over the role of government in the lives of the people. Adams wanting more control for the Federal government. Jefferson wanting more localized control. The fighting hasn’t changed to this day. Nor has it grown any more vitriolic.

It has always been a struggle.

Will always be one.

When it ceases to be a matter of debate and acrimony will be when one side concedes to the other. When one side quits trying.

Of course a people who doesn’t make the effort to educate themselves might deservedly be stripped of their privacy and power. Perhaps those people consider it fine and dandy to let a centralized government be all up in their business.

We are shaped by the books we read, just assuredly as we are shaped by the books we don’t read.

The Park Ranger held the door open as a line of visitors passed by.

“Are you a Vietnam Veteran?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “How did you know?”

“The necklace,” I said. It’s red-and-yellow beads a familiar code to me. “Thank you for your service.” I offered him my hand. “My father was killed there.”

“Can I hug you instead?” he asked. Tears in his eyes.

We embraced there among the ghosts of men who understood the things unspoken.


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