My family was on vacation in Boston last week and took the Freedom Trail Walking Tour. I am awestruck by the historical significance of events that transpired in New England from the first steps off the Mayflower to the birth–through blood, sweat, and tears–of our nation. Walking in the footsteps of ordinary-men- and-women-turned-heroes was a very personal and humbling experience.
My favorite stop was undoubtedly the Granary Burying Ground. I guess it’s because it gave me the sense that these men whose names and deeds are immortal in history were no less mortal than I am. But larger-than-life Patriots–the Sons of Liberty and Fathers of our Country–the brave men who risked everything to sign their names to the documents of our Independence–saw far beyond the comfort of their own day-to-day lives and families.
It makes me wonder how they knew where to draw the line. At what point do you say, “enough is enough” and risk everything by throwing the tea into the harbor?
When is it time to start a ball rolling that you don’t have the power to stop on your own, and how do you know when it’s your time to act and not wait for someone who is braver or smarter or more powerful to effect change? At what point did blue-collar men become heroes, and their choice to ride through the countryside with a message become legendary?
When do you sign your name so boldly and stand up so tall for something that no political correctness can obscure your position or protect you from the repercussions of opposition? When do you overlook whatever awful fate may come to you personally in order to facilitate greater opportunities for unborn generations?
Were these men endowed with greater potential than that of men and women born in our generation? Was the weight of their responsibility to the future so much more tangible to them, or their vision so much clearer than ours? Were they led by a moral compass with more passion or polarity? Did they fear less? Could it be that they feared God more?
I was touched by the story of James Otis who argued so brilliantly against writs of assistance for nearly five hours in the Old State House that John Adams later claimed: “The child independence was then and there born.” He said that no one should be taxed without representation and motivated the colonists to begin the revolution against tyranny. He suffered serious injury to his skull in a fight with a British soldier and, from then on, suffered mental lapses that cost him the respect and standing he had earned. He died–shamed and ridiculed, a laughing stock–when he was struck by a bolt of lightning at the age of 58.
I can’t believe that James Otis’ sacrifice for the cause of freedom was any less valuable simply because fewer modern Americans know his name. I know that he was not the only contributor to our liberty to fade into obscurity. I also know there were a few accidental or even unwilling participants who were immortalized despite themselves. But where would we be if they hadn’t chiseled their names on history, whatever their role was to be?
In contrast to Otis’ ill fortune, Benjamin Franklin is still well-known, and deservedly so. While on my trip I decided to refresh my memory of his accomplishments, reading a simple children’s book called Amazing Ben Franklin Inventions You Can Build Yourself by Carmella Van Vleet, published by Nomad Press. (Take a look at this interview with Carmella Van Vleet and check out the cool craft projects in it that you can do with your kids! History was never this fun when I was in school!) Ben Franklin was a statesman without whose wisdom and influence the revolution might arguably have been lost. He was the only man to sign all four documents that made our independence and government possible. His inventions have saved and improved the quality of many countless lives. Amazingly, he never patented any of his myriad of life-improving inventions, unselfishly sharing whatever wisdom he had for the benefit of the public. He felt that, as he had benefited from the inventions of others before him, he should freely and generously share his own wealth of knowledge for the betterment of others yet to come.
I have always been interested in learning about how life used to be. Triumph through hardships–without so much as indoor plumbing, an electric light, or transportation that runs on fuel other than hay–fascinates me. It also motivates me to wonder if the ease of my lifestyle and technological advantages will improve the legacy I leave behind, or whether the DNA of heroic sacrifice even run through my veins in a dormant state. I suppose no one knows it’s there until they’re compelled by intense circumstances to reach into the depths of their soul and retrieve it. My gratitude for our forefathers who have discovered the outer limits of their abilities runs deep.
My blog is about my pursuit of happiness through enjoyable and meaningful hobbies. Perhaps history is more compulsory curriculum than creative hobby, but learning about and appreciating those who have paved the way for you certainly can produce all the enjoyment of a favorite hobby. So, I think it was appropriate to add to my creative hobbies, another category of expanding my understanding of–and gratitude for–the people who actually conceived, established, and defended my opportunities for Life, Liberty, and my own personal Pursuit of Happiness.