July 1

For him, it was a long day on a business trip. Hoping to find new clients, maybe yes, maybe no. Now, moon rising, he’s lonely being away from his family. He’s 36 years old, stuck for tonight in a small, isolated coastal town. In a guest room strange to him with a candle glowing next to the bed, he reaches for a paper-bound book in his travel bag.

The book is a stage play, banned from public performance. The powers-that-be labeled the play too anti-government, too anti-authority, too dangerous.

He thumbs through the book looking for a particular passage. Finds it. Next, he picks up his own pen and rewrites a few lines, among his favorites from the play. Into his diary the ink flows from the quill:

“When Life, or Death, becomes the Question, all Distinctions vanish; Then the first Monarch and the lowest Slave on the same Level Stand, in this the sons of equal Nature all.”

John Adams leans over from his bed and blows out the candle. Tomorrow, he returns home from Falmouth on Casco Bay, home to his beloved Braintree village, north of Boston in the British colony of Massachusetts. More than that, though, he will see Abigail again, his beloved wife.

Until then, there were those words. A monarch. A slave. Equality. Nature.


Thirteen British colonies line the Atlantic coast of North America. They belong to the British Empire and its imperial government of King George III and Parliament. Sam Adams, a cousin of John’s, has convinced a handful of other Massachusetts residents to start a “committee of correspondence” to share news, information, plans, and opinions with like-minded people in the other twelve colonies. Sam Adams believes that British imperial authority is a violation of colonists’ freedom. In addition, in Rhode Island, a group of similarly motivated colonists have burned a ship from the British Navy tasked with enforcing British trade rules. Later, just a few weeks before John Adams scans his copy of the banned play “Edward and Eleanora”, a financial panic in London has spread. It threatens to bankrupt the British East India Tea Company, a sprawling public-private enterprise with deep connections inside the British imperial government located in London, England and dominated by the British aristocracy.

You Now

For John Adams, a continuum exists. On one end is total power invested in one person. That is the monarch. On the other end is no power available or acknowledged in one person, including in the power of living a life called their own. That is the slave. Freedom and slavery are the words, the terms, the concepts, side-by-side. Freedom and slavery are also the realities, the habits, the daily facts, again side-by-side. Though comfortable drawing bright lines of right and wrong, good and bad, my side and your side, Adams exists in the side-by-side.

The British colonists of 1772 know that perfectly well. It’s not a surprise. It’s not a shock. They’re in the middle of a stream of issues and trends, actions and decisions, that bring both ends of the continuum into play regardless of consistency or inconsistency. The knots tighten, the threads weave, twist, and entangle with each passing day. The chains aren’t going anywhere.

In 2022 we see an onslaught of something different. Instead of a side-by-side, it’s a side-to-side, specifically, one side hurling in the direction of the other side. Regarding the founding period of the United States, one side fires shots of nothing-but-racists while the other retaliates with nothing-but-heros. It’s all about the ends and nothing about the spaces and connections and linkages between. For those subjected to the crossfire and subsisting inside the ends, the effort is numbing as well as useless.

Continuums take time to understand. They further require discipline to keep at it while the distractions mount up and obstruct the work of getting closer to details, elements, and particles. They grow the more you do. They become familiar and workable and, over time, quietly transform into trails and pathways rather than static lines on a surface.


For Adams, death changed all. It erased the continuum, rendering it obsolete. But what does life do? How does life look when you hold a place along the continuum and look from end to end? Can anything happen to change your place or, in an almost unthinkable level of imagination, alter the continuum itself? Where would you possibly begin?