Though a DVD malfunction made my annual tradition a day late, I watched the movie 1776 on the day after the July 4th holiday, as my yearly reminder of the drama and against-all-odds brinkmanship involved in getting a group of headstrong pioneers to band together, against all expected chance of victory, to put aside their formidable differences and agree to stand up to one of the mightiest empires of the world, in the name of Freedom. Our nation today is a direct result of the miracle they pulled off back then, starting with their mutual commitment to the task at hand.
“Commitment” is the theme of the movie; and John Adams, the central figure of this drama, is Commitment’s strongest representative—dogged, resolute, unyielding, defiant, willing to risk his standing, his fortune, his popularity and, ultimately, his very life in the cause of fighting for Freedom. He is a real-life tragic hero, for, as many of us know, once the Declaration was signed and full-on war was declared against Britain, Adams and the rest of the Continental Congress were in most cases hunted like dogs, their homes destroyed, their families captured or killed, their fortunes lost, their health lost as they crawled under cover and darkness through damp marshes and brutal winters. Adams, who eventually became President himself, was one of the luckiest ones; many of those brave men didn’t live to see an independent United States of America, the cause that defined them and was demanded of them by posterity.
Watching 1776 brought a tear to my eye, more than once. Not just because of the drama of the moment; but because thinking about their trials and efforts just makes my own personal issues and efforts seem so pathetic in comparison.
“There are only two creatures of value on the face of the earth: those with the Commitment, and those who require the Commitment of others.” So said John Adams, one of his only direct quotes to be inserted into 1776. (I would love to think Adams had actually said, “I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is a Disgrace… that two useless men are called a Law Firm… and that three, or more, become a Congress!” But apparently that was written just for the play and movie. Sigh.)
Anyway, it’s Adams’ statement on Commitment that not only defines him so well, but shames me as thoroughly… for I must admit to having lost my commitment to novel writing. After having struggled for years against all odds of becoming successful, I finally admitted defeat at the hands of an uncaring market that refused to be swayed by my desires and efforts on their behalf; and after being shunned, belittled and ignored for so long, finally turned away from my quest and slunk away, tail between my legs. I gave up… I was broken, and with pathetically little effort applied to breaking me.
Had John Adams been alive today, I imagine he would have bitch-slapped me for showing so little backbone… though, I suppose, he might have also considered me beneath his notice, as my personal cause is obviously nothing in comparison to his fight… shaming me even further. And so I weep, not only in appreciation for the sacrifices Adams and others made, ultimately, on my unworthy behalf… but in full understanding of my unworthiness and weakness in the face of minimal adversity, my inability to stand up to the belittling and ignoring of my efforts to be an independent writer, and my lack of perseverance. I am pathetic. I am Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, the man who finally realizes that he is, in fact, a cockroach, worthy only of the scorn and disgust of others.
(Okay, I got that off my chest. Moving on.)
I’ve always been impressed by heroes, by those who fight adversity and resistance and come out on top… hey, that’s what heroes are for. But at the same time, I’ve been aware of those who simply will never have the chance to be a hero, and who understand their limitations. The world is full of people who fight the good fight, resist adversity, stand up for their rights and desires… and lose anyway. Despite what the Muppets would have you believe, Life is NOT a movie, and people’s endings are often written by someone else, whether they like it or not. Some of us strive for fame and fortune, and end up serving sandwiches. Some of us struggle for college degrees, and end up in cubicles for the rest of our lives. Some of us get tired of the rat race, and retreat to a more manageable rural life, or a new home in a more relaxed locale or country. And some of us, our whole lives ahead of us, get cut down by a terrorist’s bomb or a crazed idiot’s bullet, or fall to an unexpected disease or stroke, or get hit by a texting driver’s car.
In the face of that… let’s call it real life… perhaps its not such a bad thing for someone who has already achieved some personal success to cash his chips and get away from the table while the getting’s good. Or, at least, to know which battles are simply a drain on energy and resources, and which battles are worth fighting for.
Perhaps John Adams would’ve looked me in the eye, and said: “That’s all right. It’s not like entertaining people is important. You have a family… a home… a life. That is, by far, the more important. Don’t waste it in pursuit of a lesser prize.”
He’d probably add: “And good God, stop crying, you baby.”
Then there’s John Dickinson, John Adams’ Congressional colleague and chief adversary in the drama, who declared that even though he lost the battle to remain under British rule, he loved his country enough to resign from Congress and join the armed forces to fight for it. Dickinson took his loss in Congress, and moved on to another, equally important battle, to preserve his neighbors’ rights (as American or British citizens). I can take this to heart, for, as I have lost the fight for the title of Independent Novelist, I am now channeling my efforts into testing my writing skills in another entertainment medium: Television. Which may or may not work out—much the same as novel writing—but which will, at least for the time being, keep me off the streets.
So, the heroic effort continues, in another direction. I’m not quite a cockroach, as I’m not altogether accepting of my pathetic circumstance, but still prepared to strive for better. My commitment may not be as strong as it was, but it hasn’t completely died as yet. And my efforts may not be as heady or important as saving a country, but at least they demonstrate that my spirit hasn’t been completely broken. Just re-committed.