Thursday, January 01, 2009


It is a new year and I must begin by reflecting on the last week of 2008, during which Angela and the girls and I drove to Charlottesville, Virginia for a Soper family reunion that originally had been scheduled for Thanksgiving 2005 in New Orleans but was postponed due to Hurricane Katrina’s bleak aftermath. It takes a lot of planning to get twenty-two people from seven states together over the Christmas holidays, let me tell you. Most people flew in but Angela and I thought it would be a nice family bonding experience to drive twenty-six hundred miles in five days. This was a lovely thought that lasted all the way through Beaumont (outbound).

The highlight of my trip, aside from seeing all the folks, of course, was the afternoon we spent touring Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s beautiful mountain-top estate/plantation. I didn’t know much about Jefferson other than that he was the principle author of the Declaration of Independence, was our third president, during which he masterminded the Louisiana Purchase and financed the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and that he founded the University of Virginia. I will tell you that those accomplishments only begin to testify to his impressive character and giftedness. As President John F. Kennedy put it when he welcomed forty-nine Nobel Prize winners to the White House in 1962, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent and of human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House -- with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

Jefferson achieved distinction as a political philosopher, statesman, horticulturist, archeologist, and inventor. He began studying Latin, Greek and French at age nine and eventually mastered seven languages. Did I mention he played the violin? He was an inventor of some renown. His house is filled with little contraptions and devices he conjured up and assembled to expedite household routines. His design of both the campus layout and architecture of the University of Virginia continues to draw accolades.

I remember a particular moment of personal inspiration during the tour. We were in Jefferson’s bedroom/study, and on his desk was one of his inventions, a manual copy machine on which, as one writes on a pad of paper, a dual pen in a parallel holder writes the same thing on a different pad. The tour guide was telling us of Jefferson’s legendary work habits; his motto was, “Never let the sun catch you in bed.” The first thing he did every morning was to step outside and check the temperature, which he recorded in a meteorological diary. Then he sat on his bed and placed his feet in a bucket of cold water on the floor for a minute or two. This (evidently) helped him wake up and focus his mind.

Well, that sent me over the edge. I went from dutiful admirer to awe-struck pupil. A bucket of cold water first thing in the morning! I love it! I can’t wait for Angela to try this and tell me how it works.

But seriously, Thomas Jefferson loved life and wanted to absorb and experience every possible molecule of it he could, to the point of wanting to be fully awake as soon as possible every day. And it seems to me that this might be a good thought to carry into a new year: What do I need to do to be more fully awake to God, my life, and people each and every day?


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