“I hear America singing,” Walt Whitman once wrote. Today I hear America sighing.
In a survey conducted in January 2021, 45 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of Republicans, and 59 percent of Independents believed that the country was heading the wrong direction. In addition, 13 percent of Democrats, and 17 percent of Republicans and Independents were unsure about the country’s future.
Whatever our politics, most of us who follow the news find scant encouragement in the daily headlines and commentaries. We read about the trillions of dollars we owe, the battle over Critical Racial Theory taught in our children’s classrooms, and the constant back and forth sniping in Congress and the media. The global situation isn’t any better. It’s enough to change Pollyanna’s “Glad Game” to the “Bad Game.”
Add individual trials and troubles to this rucksack of dreary burdens, and our sadness deepens, overwhelming our interior resources of perseverance and grit. It’s hard enough watching the country fall apart, but when we’re also personally battered by life, even getting out of bed in the morning can become a chore.
Most of us lack the power to change the world at large, and some of us lack the power to change our circumstances, at least in the short run, but tools are available to give us some light in these shadowy bogs. Let’s look at a few of these devices:
Spend time outdoors. I’m writing these words sitting on the front porch of my house. Though rain is expected later, the sun is shining, I’ve recently mown the lawn (thank heavens), the birds are singing away, and the girl with the bright smile who drives her ATV up and down the street just waved as she passed me by.
The past 24 hours have brought some unhappiness to my life, and to the lives of some others I know, but this stint on the front porch is acting like a natural restorative.
Share your hardships with other people. Friends and family members may have some excellent advice for us, but even more importantly, just talking can relieve some of the stress and sorrow we feel.
Manual labor can do wonders for a battered spirit. Whether it’s weeding the garden or washing a sink load of dishes, physical activity has the power, however temporary, to push away a black mood. Ora et labora (pray and work) is the ancient monastic formula for a balanced life. When we finish a task, we have the satisfaction of seeing a weedless garden or an empty sink.
Look for silver linings. A young friend who keeps on top of the news and has her own troubles told me that she keeps trying to find some good in most situations. Some acquaintances think she wears a pair of rose-colored glasses, and perhaps she does, but when we speak by phone her laughter and cheerful voice act like a tonic if I’m feeling down.
Right now, our country could use an army of such optimistic souls. Why not try and enlist in that diminished band?
Look at the big picture. The big picture encompasses our personal problems and the bigger troubles of politics and culture alike, but there’s more to that picture than we sometimes realize. If we look, we can find comfort and even joy in the whirl of life and mysteries all around us.
An example: Last week in the coffee shop I was typing away, but feeling in a black mood because of some personal problems when three moms and a squad of kids gathered at two picnic tables on the outside patio. These women and children, none of whom were wearing face coverings, made the air rich with laughter and conversation as they enjoyed their muffins and beverages. As they were leaving, I asked one of the moms whether they were celebrating a birthday. “Oh, no,” she said. “Just getting together with friends.”
Just getting together with friends: It sounded so pleasant and…well, normal.
Like the lilies blooming in my neighbor’s yard, here was one more sign of hope and recovery after a long, bleak winter.
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Flickr-Christian Hammer Nielsen, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0