An Echo You Must Hear


I’m getting lots of reactions to my post from yesterday–on the present and the dying thing. A dear friend of mine commented on Facebook, stirring me to address a key point. Before I do so, I’m listening to a song as I write this. It’s a song of great moment. I’ll put it on my website in the coming week. Look for it under You And This Song.

Now, on to today’s post.

The wonderful image above is Benjamin Franklin. The prime of life, a fact that fairly shouts at you from the pixels on this screen.

Go back to my post of yesterday, go to the end and re-read the story of Franklin’s conversation with Elizabeth Powell.

It’s tempting and all too likely that a reader will dismiss the story. A clever reply from an old man to the question from a young woman. And if you know anything about Franklin, the tendency to dismiss it is even greater–he was full of such quips and this is just one more tossed on a mound of eighteenth-century bumper stickers and sound bites. A nice story.

Don’t leave with this as your final thought. Don’t do it.

Franklin is talking to Powell but speaking to you, to me, to us. He is saying that the structure he and others were sweating over in summer 1787 is nothing more and nothing less than the best experiment possible. We are attempting to determine if people can govern themselves. No one is sure it will work. No one is sure it will work for long.

I often tell people that if I could have us regain only one thing from the Founding Era it would be the raw sense of a great experiment under way. It’s an experiment tended every season of every year. Like so many other things from the era, however, the sense of experimentation is gone. Powdered wigs, candle flame, the clip-clop of horses on cobblestones, and…sadly…the knowledge of our own experimental status, they are relics seen in historic sites, behind the glass and ropes of museums, on the screen of a theater or a phone.

Long ago, far, far Up River, an old man and a young woman had a brief conversation. Their words are in the water that flows around us. An echo in the current. Can it ever be heard?