Early Settlers of
Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements
Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life
By: Ethelene Dyer Jones
Goodbye 2011...Hello 2012
Years are the means of marking time on the calendar. We said “goodbye” to 2011 and “hello” to 2012. Time flows in relentless passage. Before one year can hardly be reckoned with, another is upon us. Much ink and an infinite number of words have been expended in trying to laud or decry time’s rapid passage. But regardless of what we think or say about time, none of us has the power to either slow it down or stop it.
John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States who served from 1825-1829, wrote this poem about time:
“Alas! How swift the moments fly!
How flash the years along!
Scarce here, yet gone already by,
The burden of a song.
See childhood, youth and manhood pass,
And age with furrowed brow;
Time was—Time shall be—drain the glass—
But where in Time is now?
This son of our second president, John Adams, was seven years old when the battle of Bunker Hill was fought during the American Revolution. That day was carved indelibly in the young child’s memory. When he was eleven, his father was sent as America’s representative to France where the young boy attended school. And, unbelievably, when John Quincy Adams was only fourteen, his precociousness landed him in Russia where, at that young, impressionable age, he worked as secretary to the American ambassador in that country. At age fifteen, he became his father’s secretary and was present as John Adams assisted with writing the peace treaty ending the American Revolution. Returning to the United States, the younger Adams entered Harvard where he earned a law degree in 1787. He then became America’s representative under President Washington to several European countries. Continuing his career in foreign service, he helped write the peace treaty following the end of the War of 1812 (in 1814), sent by President Madison. Then President James Monroe appointed John Quincy Adams Secretary of State in 1817. He assisted when the United States negotiated to get Florida and helped to write the Monroe Doctrine. In the election of 1824, the decision had to be determined by the House of Representatives because there was not a majority in the electoral college. Andrew Jackson and his compatriots accused John Quincy Adams of making deals to win the election. Nevertheless, even with the shaky beginning, his presidency saw the building of the Erie Canal, and laid the groundwork for educational advancement and the establishment of the Naval Academy, all of which came later. He was defeated by Andrew Jackson in the 1828 election, but later ran for Congress, was elected from his home state of Massachusetts and served seventeen years, helping to establish the Smithsonian Institution and advocating freedom for slaves, civil rights, and free speech. He died at his desk in his office at Congress on February 23, 1848.
With all of history that the inimitable John Quincy Adams lived through (1767-1848), is it any wonder that he asked the pointed question in his poem: “But where in Time is now?”
His question brings us to the same pivotal consideration. “But where in Time is now?”
We are in a time of great duress in our nation. Trust seems to be in grave danger. Debt and uncertainty reign. Citizens, many of whom would work if they had jobs, are jobless. Many other citizens, too accustomed to government “hand-outs” and idleness, are just as glad to make-do from one government assistance check to another without rendering any worthwhile service either to their families or our country. “But where in Time is now?” reechoes through the many decades from the time John Quincy Adams wrote these probing words. The demise of 2011 and the dawn of 2012 call us to consider our own responsibilities and directions.
True, we may not lead a life of foreign service and domestic leadership as did the long-ago sixth president, John Quincy Adams.
But I’m reminded of the old adage that carries great truth: “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” We come to 2012 for some purpose. Could it be to stand on convictions and strengthen the one small link that is our niche in the chain of time and events?
We have now—which will soon pass. But now is important. All that we have and are has been shaped by what is past. All that we have and will become lies in right choices and determined action. Poet Alfred Lord Tennyson stated quite succinctly the passing of one year and the dawn of the new in his “In Memoriam” (1850):
“The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.”
Our times are more complex, more complicated than those experienced by John Quincy Adams and Alfred Lord Tennyson. But we, as they, have opportunity to make a difference where we are, to “ring in the true.” The question remains: Will I? Will we? Tennyson put our responsibility quite well when he wrote: “That men may rise on stepping-stones/Of their dead selves to higher things.” The year 2012 gives us this opportunity.
c2012 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published January 5, 2012 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
[Ethelene Dyer Jones is a retired educator, freelance writer, poet, and historian. She may be reached at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; phone 478-453-8751; or mail 1708 Cedarwood Road, Milledgeville, GA 31061-2411.]