Nobody has perfect 20/20 foresight. Not even John Adams.
Full of excitement at America’s independence, he predicted in a letter that there’d be a great anniversary festival. He saw how future generations would celebrate it with “pomp and parade, with shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.”
He also predicted it would be on July 2. Whoops.
To be fair, the world looked very different when Adams wrote home on July 3. The vote to break with Great Britain had been yesterday. The vote to approve the Declaration would be tomorrow. Few people knew what had happened; fewer still could guess what it might mean.
A moment of transformation. No, make that a moment IN transformation. A change in process, with the past behind and the new present not yet formed.
Exciting. Terrifying. Uncertain.
And oh, so familiar.
The technical term is a “liminal moment,” meaning a moment on the threshold. We experience a lot of them, as individuals and a society. They’re not a comfortable place to be, not least because they hold so many questions from the inside.
“Am I an adult yet?”
“Are we in or out of a pandemic – or does that mean anything?”
“Am I over the threshold or still in between?”
We don’t like uncertainty, of course. So we try to set boundaries, definitions, signposts. (“Why, you’re an adult when you’re 18. Except for the parts where you’re 21. Other terms and conditions may apply.”) We want to move ahead and get out of the fog, finding our way to firmer ground.
But please. Don’t rush too fast.
That time in between has value.
You can’t live there, of course. But you can make a life from there. It’s a moment of discarding old assumptions and shaping new ideas. When tomorrow doesn’t have to look just like today with better cars and smaller computers. When we can choose who we are and what we want to become.
Sure, we’ll be wrong about a lot of things. We’re human. It happens. But if we live these moments unafraid to be wrong – aware, adaptable, open to wonder – then even our mistakes can lead somewhere pretty amazing. Maybe even revolutionary.
So here’s to Mr. Adams and all his heirs. Perhaps, in his honor, we should commemorate July 3 as well. Not the day of decision, nor the day of declaration, but a day of possibilities with all the world open.
That’s certainly something worth writing home about.