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From the eighteenth-century has emerged new friends, John and Abigail Adams, originally from a working farm at Braintree, Massachusetts. As husband and wife, their humanness enlivened my imagination: I was with them during their long relationship with its chilling hardships and lengthy separations.

Prior to this memorable experience, found in the pages of John Adams (2001), by the master writer, David McCullough, I only knew John and Abigail from history’s dust-covered pages about our country’s beginnings.

In McCullough’s perception, too few knew of Abigail’s emotional and spiritual and political support of John, of his intellectual brilliance and astute reading of character, his ease speaking in the political arena, his passion for truth, his sense of humor, his diplomatic work in Paris and the Hague that led to American independence—all these had been insufficiently addressed by Adams’s authors. So McCullough set to work. Years would pass.

Ruminating over John’s and Abigail’s letters, diaries, and journals, visiting all the places they had lived in America and Europe, and steeping his imagination with sensory impressions, McCullough allowed the story to take its present form in his unconscious, while ever critiquing what he wrote and checking his facts.

Readers of John Adams by David McCullough can’t help being touched by the immediacy of this piece of eighteenth-century history. As one of the Founding Fathers, McCullough honors Adams’s passion for American Independence, the form of government of the new country, and his role as one of the Founding Fathers.

Every day we open and close doors to our homes, our cars, places of work, institutions, family, and friends. Do we notice the variety of the doors: hinged, folding, sliding, rotating up and over, some with locks and some without? Does crossing their threshold alter our energy?

Such questions must have influenced the earliest reproductions of both the single and double doors depicted upon walls of Egyptian tombs in the Nile Valley. Here, the door symbolizes an area, closed off from the profane, similar to later ornamental doors found on mosques, monasteries, cathedrals, and temples, orienting the worshiper toward its mysteries within. Even the doors of home are sacred. The Archeological Museum in Naples displays a set of Roman folding doors from a first century AD estate in Pompeii that was ruined by Mount Vesuvius.

However, there is another door closer to home, the door to our hearts; its challenge is to become aware of it, then pause before opening it to who or whatever is attracting us. With instincts activated, discernment is critical. In the in-between space, questions surface: Are lesser motives obscuring their toxicity? Is neediness demanding to be satiated? Who will benefit? What will I learn if I act? Or give in? Perhaps “No” is the wisest response when clarity is an issue. Such practice deepens humility and opens the psyche to spiritual guidance, without which we stagnate.

Thus we thrive in our flawed humanness and bring our unique gifts to fruition among others—the purpose of our existence.

 

There is a line, a long one. Ahead of me are eight customers: a young father returning a boxed-up stroller; a short woman with two packages; another, perhaps, in her last trimester leaning against the island counter paging a novel; a mom jiggling her toddler wearing a sailor shirt; another woman wearing a black beret sealing a box; a construction worker, all brawn, slapping his thigh in rhythm with the bud in his ear; curious daughters rooting around in their mom’s satchel; a black grandfatherly type on his cell; and an office worker carrying a tub of bubble envelopes.

The sole clerk behind the counter smiles as she listens to each customer’s special need. Tension swells the small room like helium inflating balloons. The air is heavy. The door swings open. More step in line, eyes blinking to the overhead fluorescent lights. Outside, December’s dusk shrouds the street. Still the door keeps opening. At the end of the line, neighbors share Christmas plans.

Twenty-five minutes pass. It looked like that young father, stooped over the counter, was having difficulty completing the required forms. More standing on one foot, then, the other. Even harder does the construction worker slap his thigh, tap his steel-toed boot on the tile floor. The reader bookmarks a chapter and stretches. The toddler yawns while fingering his mom’s jacket. The grandfather pockets his cell in his leather coat and arches his shoulders.

There’s something to be said for restraint of tongue. Eventually, help does come.

 

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