Sunday, April 20, 2008

Making It Real

My favorites subjects in school were English, Art, and History. I remember those special teachers and have long forgotten the rest. I loved writing, literature, book reports, the history of my State, of America, and of the World. My imagination ran wild in those classes, whereas math, science, and french class--I wouldn't give you a nickel for. I hated those dreadful subjects then--and I hate 'em now.

So whenever a bestselling book is made into a movie, a book I've read and adored, I set aside writing time to watch the movie. Albeit, the movie is usually never as good as the book. (How can it be, now really?) But I still love to watch the characters come to life.

Lately, I've been wrapped up in my Sunday fix of the HBO mini series, John Adams. A mixture of everything I love. This Pulitzer Prize winning novel has captured my enthusiasm for not just a great story, but oh my gosh ... it has made the history of this great nation come alive for me. I remember that in high school I memorized the Declaration of Independence. In fact, for a project, my best friend at the time (Wendy was her name as I recall) together we made up a cheerleading routine to the Declaration of Independence. It was for "extra credit."

What sacrilege as I think of it now. How utterly stupid. I hope John Adams and the rest of the founders weren't watching. All I can say now is that ... we were young, and had no idea the cost paid for that magnificent moment in time where a nation of free people was born. The founders knew. They most certainly were aware of the unborn generations they would affect by their actions.

As I watch this program, I am in awe of the fight, even among the Representatives of the 13 colonies, to get to the point where they could agree in mass to break from England. The love story between John and Abigail is touching and heartbreaking. The hardships these people suffered in early America ... it boggles the mind. There's a scene where John Adams, as President of the United States, is searching a seedy section of some city for his son. President Adams is alone, walking up and down dim alleyways, dark and dirty streets, and I'm wondering ... where are his bodyguards? Silly me. Who knew what the President looked like back then? Nobody knew him! And the luxuries known to our Presidents today were certainly not available to George, John, and Thomas, our first three Presidents.

Just watching the differences in time, how small pox spread and how Abigail dealt with it ... John Adams' desperation to insure the colonies become a free nation for his children, and their children ... ah, well ... the whole made-for-TV story moves me. Alas, this is one movie I am watching where I have not read the book first. So I'm anxious to read John Adams afterward, to see if it is indeed, better than the mini-series.

Although I loved History class, they were in essence just stories to me back in school. I loved stories. But History is reality. And as much as I loved it -- it was not real to me. Oh sure, I memorized the long list of Presidents, I learned about the wars, the immigrants, the Gold Rush, and the Great Depression.

But until my grandparents disclosed their fight to stay alive during the 30's, it was just a story to me. Until I walked the coal camps of Appalachia for myself, I found it hard to relay them to my reader.

The Vietnam War was worlds away from my door until the names of young men I went to school with turned up in our local newspapers as M.I.A.

Until I visited reservations in Arizona and Oklahoma where American Indians still struggle after centuries, I'm afraid it would never have become real to me.

As I walked the hallowed halls on Ellis Island, those thousands of tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free, would never have come alive to me.

Exploring Williamsburg, walking her cobbled-stone streets, visiting Monticello, Mount Vernon, Philadelphia, and the tobacco plantations of the South, my mind's eye was dim as to what our founding Fathers saw until then.

The day I walked over the vast battle grounds at Gettysburg and then at Appomattox, the Civil War's blood bath was not a part of me until that day. I read the books, but to see where history was made, the story was not real until standing on the ground where those soldiers fell.

Until I visited places near and dear to those who fought for civil rights, Martin Luther King's struggle was only pages of History. But to really listen to him, feel the inflections in his speech, to hear his voice, then study his words, walk where he walked ... well, his mission, though respected, wasn't as real as it has since become.

I love reading stories that become real to me. And although I read many books that take place in countries or places where I have never stepped foot, I often like to research the areas for myself, online, just to see a picture of the land, the people, or something to give me a connection to the place. I'm not always successful, and I may still love the story, but when it becomes real to me, then the story sticks in my head for a long, long time. That's why a movie like John Adams is important. It makes it real.

Maybe that's why I love to write about the South. I know this place. Place is about touch and smell and sight ... the senses that glues the story to our memories.

So as I watch John Adams for its final episode tonight, I fall in love with History all over again. A history that screams out ... "This is how these people lived, they REALLY lived here, they walked and talked and founded this country on little more than guts and an instinct for survival!"

They weren't perfect, these Founding Fathers. Issues of slavery were ignored for another 100 years. Women had no say, except in private, with any matters of government. But the men who put together the foundation of our freedom, they were men who took a stand against tyranny. It was a start. God help us, it's still not perfect. I wonder what they would think if they could see us now?

Anyway, kudos to HBO for making it real.

Blessings to you and yours.

1 comment:

Monita said...

Interesting to know.