My birthday passed with little fanfare a couple of weeks ago. No hoopla, no celebration, no criminal activity, just some quiet desperation, as Thoreau would say. To cheer myself up, I decided to go online and see who else was born that day.
Most of them were younger than me (I should say “than I” but it doesn’t sound right, and I don’t want you to think I’m a grammar fanatic.) The ones who weren’t younger than me/I were generally dead and had passed into history and hopefully the sweet hereafter.
It must have been a popular birth date for celebrities. The list of famous people included Dylan Conrique, Pokediger1, Ty Dolla Sign, SallyGreenGamer, Uno The Activist and a dog named Frank Pugan. First of all, who the heck are these people … and canines? Second, whatever happened to normal names like Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Jackie Chan? I didn’t know a single one of them, so it was a bit disconcerting to think I was born on the same day as a bunch of strange celebrities with equally strange names.
There are two people I’ve always admired who share my birthday. One was Margaret of Castello, a 14th-century Italian saint born blind and deformed who was abandoned as a child by her family. Even though she was homeless and forced to beg, she spent most of her 32 years of life caring for the sick, the suffering, the poor and the imprisoned.
The other was Thomas Jefferson. I often thought that being born on the same day as the third president of the United States meant I was destined for a higher purpose. Good thing I wasn’t born on Christmas.
The truth, however, is I never aspired to a career in politics. After being elected to the student council and serving one term, I refused to run for re-election and decided to pursue more productive endeavors like cutting lawns so I could make money to party.
Nevertheless, Thomas Jefferson has always been a guiding light. He was the Warren Buffett/Kanye West of his era, and his words have proved prophetic.
He once said, “I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.” He obviously never lived in Connecticut. And you certainly remember what he said about our “inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
To the dismay of my family, I’ve always adhered to Jefferson’s motto “I cannot live without books.” My wife and daughters, on the other hand, thought the money could be better spent on a cruise to the Caribbean, another bathroom or an electric garage door opener.
One lesser-known Jefferson quote, which appeared in a letter to his friend William Hamilton, is: “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion or in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”
Think about those words. We Americans are on the eve of self-destruction. We’re clawing one another’s eyes out over political views. Self-righteousness, anger and hysteria are dividing families and friends, all because we’re possessed by partisanship. (Last Thanksgiving, my coworker’s sister kicked her out of the house because of her political views.)
In his letter, Jefferson also told Hamilton: “I am happy to find you as clear of political antipathies as I am.” That’s great advice for Democrats and Republicans alike.
Even though I didn’t cut it on the student council, I know family and friends are more important than politics. Politicians come and go, but family and friends should be forever. Furthermore, the foundation of democracy is that people with diverse views can have civil discourse, agree to disagree and coexist. Another great thinker — my mother — often told me, “You’re entitled to your opinion … even if it’s wrong.”
Or as they say in 12 Step programs, “Live and let live,” and the world will be a better place.
Joe Pisani can be reached at email@example.com.