Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Patriotic Story About Two Great Friends

Once upon a time there were two fine men who were as different as they were similar. One was tall and elegant, with broad shoulders and a long, patrician nose. The other was short, bald, and I'm sorry to say it, but a bit of a chub. His nickname was Butterball, and let's just say he earned it.

But these men were both intellectual giants and shared a consuming passion for ideas and work that kindled a powerful friendship. When they were young men, just in their thirties, they collaborated on a high-profile project that brought them worldwide fame and attention.

From an outsider's point of view, it's easy to see how each man contributed his best gifts to the project, and how one man filled in the gaps of the other. Both men's efforts were essential to their mutual success. But, I'm sorry to say, the seeds of resentment and discord between the two friends were sown at this time. Over the next years, as they competed for power and fame, their friendship slowly came unraveled. They eventually stopped talking to each other completely, and for several decades, all was lost.

Reconciliation came in the shape of a caring mutual friend. Unable to watch these two suffer in silence any longer, this third man intervened and eventually negotiated an exchange of letters between the old friends. It's a stirring testimony to the fine character of these men that they let go of old grievances and forgave one another. A new chapter of their friendship began.

Over the next fifteen years, their bond was never broken. In fact, although neither man knew the other's fate, both men weakened quite suddenly, and in a startling coincidence, died on the same day. Three hours apart.

And if that isn't enough of a shocking synchronicity, they both died on the fiftieth anniversary of the high-profile project that defined their friendship in the first place.

Thomas Jefferson aka TJ
John Adams aka Butterball

As you've probably guessed, this is not just a fairy tale. I'm happy to say that this is the true story of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, two of my country's most beloved founding fathers and early presidents, and co-authors of the Declaration of Independence.

This painting by John Trumbull, called Declaration of Independence, depicts the five-man drafting committee presenting their finished document to the Congress. If I am not mistaken, Adams is the little guy on the far left of the group of five, and Jefferson is the tallest one of the five, wearing the scarlet vest. 

So every Fourth of July, as I'm eating my cheeseburger, waving my flag, and watching Seattle's finest fireworks show, I think of these two fine men. I admire their fiery passion for forming this nation, I appreciate the beautiful prose and noble purpose of the document they wrote together, but most of all, my heart is touched by the depths of their profound friendship.

TJ and Butterball, thank you once again for teaching me how to be a great friend

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