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“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
My father spent a year in Korea during the war and, after that, he spent another year in occupied Japan. He lived in a pup tent for nearly his entire two years overseas. The year in Japan, even though he was no longer in combat, he spent traveling the backroads mapping and measuring bridges. So he lived in his pup tent, sleeping most nights beside some country road somewhere.
After spending two years in a pup tent in Asia, he returned to the United States. And he never went camping again.
My dad used to tease my mom when the subject of camping came up. He would say to us kids, “your mom thinks she’s roughing it if she’s out of Kleenex”. It was good-natured teasing and she understood that he knew a thing or two about really “roughing it”.
Lately I’ve been thinking a bit about the demands of personal deprivation in service to something larger than ourselves. I think this is something that bears reflection, especially on the heels of Covid, during which many jettisoned principled commitments in favor of self-preservation. And it was all abandoned for a disease that has >99% survival rate if you’re younger than 70. We’ve known this about Covid since the spring of 2020.
It’s kind of embarrassing, to be honest. Or, at least, it should be embarrassing. Churches by the droves abandoned baptism and communion, along with any kind of embodied presence, for many months and, in some cases, years. State after state punted on election integrity just so “voters” could avoid the tiniest incremental risk of infection.
Risk aversion seems to have become a bigger pandemic than even Covid itself. You would think that rampant moral contortionism and self-censorship should require an incentive rather more momentous than merely maintaining uninterrupted Twitter access. But, alas.
I’ve been reading the letters exchanged between John and Abigail Adams in the months immediately preceding the signing of the Declaration of Independence. They make me squirm with embarrassment. They lived in the midst of smallpox and cholera, with risks to life and limb that we can’t even dream of. They were continuously separated and Abigail, in particular, suffered the travails of war without a husband to lean upon. Her letter to John informing him of the death of her mother, to whom Abigail was very close, can melt a heart of stone.
They knew a thing or two about deprivation in service to something larger than themselves. And John, especially, intended for his own children to understand the place of liberty among the hierarchy of human goods.
“I believe my children will think I might as well have thought and labored, a little, night and day for their benefit. But I will not bear the reproaches of my children. I will tell them that I studied and labored to procure a free constitution of government for them to solace themselves under, and if they do not prefer this to ample fortune, to ease and elegance, they are not my children, and I care not what becomes of them. They shall live upon thin diet, wear mean clothes, and work hard with cheerful hearts and free spirits or they may be the children of the earth, or of no one, for me. “
— John Adams, April 11, 1776
John spent months separated from his family in order to help found a nation. He subjected himself intentionally to smallpox in an effort to gain immunity and ensure his ability to perform the role he needed to play at the continental congress.
John Adams risked smallpox (fatality rate of 30%) to get us the vote. We won’t risk Covid (fatality rate <1%) to ensure that the vote is honest and real.
When the founders pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, they were not mouthing platitudinous highfalutin mumbo jumbo. It was a no-kidding life or death undertaking for them.
And now we’re a nation made up of large numbers of people willing utter pronouns known to be false just to stay in the good graces of the likes of Twitter.
Any deprivation at all is just too large to tolerate. It’s kind of embarrassing.