Where Does Hope Begin?

I belong to that growing band of elders that, oddly enough, has more power by accident and design than any previous set. We have a reputation as crabapples and badmouthers that is grossly unfair. As the cohort swells and we're studied more, I think the ranks will number far more optimists and cheerful givers than ever imagined, perhaps even a majority. In yesteryear, old folks suffered poverty and privation. The mean old government alleviated that and for a while pensions eased the pain. But those who arrive in the hallway by the exit door these days, despite all sorts of troubles, seem remarkably positive.

Most of us I suspect have memories of the mood states of past eras from the Great Depression and the infamous Sixties through the Reagan phenomenon and the post 911 period. All had crises here and overseas that taxed our tranquility and disrupted our summer fun. Usually we were able to put the awful things aside in the soulful cause of replenishing our souls by occupying a cabin on a lake or daring the ferris wheel at Coney Island. There were other times when it was virtually impossible to laugh without grimacing. I believe we're now in one of those unrelentingly dark times from which there is no exemption from cares of conscience.

The dark shroud that covers our existence like a forbidding shelter includes the strands of Syria, Ukrane, Central African Republic, Sudan, Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Israel and Gaza. Each is gruesome savagery in its own right with which we identify more or less. The darkness is the whole of it all at once, a surrogate world gone mad, a refutation of Stephen Pinker's ivory tower thesis that violence has lessened in the world. Francis Fukuyama"s "End of History" was supposed to be a triumph of Western democratic capitalism -- right around the corner he taught us. Instead we get another glimpse of that other vision of history's end in the Apocalypse.

I know many will say this is myopia, that there have always been great crimes but these aren't particularly unusual and we'll survive the way we always have by muddling and half mending. There's a good chance they're right; it's only another round of insanity that will quiet down like the others. My point is that the confluence of hostilities permeates our collective being in a way tha clouds our disposition and makes hope seem unreachable. I imagine the national psyche might have been similarly brought down in the approach to World War II.

Yes, there is the promise that God will provide where we run out of hope. That doesn't mean it won't be borne by pain.


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