It’s one of the most delightful and inspirational stories of American history. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who started as political allies in the Continental Congress – where they worked together on drafting the Declaration of Independence – became the bitterest of political enemies after independence had been won. Their approaches to government were very different, and their perceptions of dangers to the republic widely separated. The lies and vitriol both men (and especially their spokesmen) employed against each other in election campaigns make the ugliness of today’s politics look courtly and tame.
And yet, in their old age, the two men began corresponding, and became friends again. Amazingly, they died on the very same day – and that day was the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration. (Seriously. It’s true. Look it up.)
I’m recalling that story today, not for political purposes, but just to talk about old age – a subject of increasing interest to me.
I haven’t read the Adams-Jefferson letters (I know, I should). But I wonder if part of their reconciliation, beyond the fact that they were nearly the sole survivors of their generation, was the reconciling power of shared aches and pains.
I had opportunities recently to spend time with a couple of people from my youth. One of the particular tribulations to which a just Providence has subjected me in my dotage has been that pretty much every one of the friends of my youth, the people I was closest to, have walked away from the beliefs we shared. I have not changed (much). They have changed their views in almost every way.
And yet we spent time together in amity. Thinking it over afterward, I realized that we spent a lot of the time discussing our health complaints.
This is a topic that never fails among the old.
I remember being young (my memory is still that good), and I recall that one of the things we laughed about when talking about old people was how they couldn’t shut up about their aches and pains, their digestions and their prescriptions.
And I understand. I have no wish to impose tales of my dry skin and digestive habits on the healthy young, who should have their minds set on higher things.
But when we oldsters are together, ailment talk is great. It bridges divisions, awakens sympathy, and arouses our helpful instincts.
All part of God’s plan, no doubt. He has a wry sense of humor.