Staying upbeat these days sometimes requires the strength of a Samson, the mind-set of a Millennialist, the heart of a Pollyanna, and a bottle of New Amsterdam Vodka.
I lacked all of these weapons one recent evening. I’ve taken a leave of absence from alcohol, and the other attributes were as remote from me as the Himalayas. My personal life was in good order, but the bankrupt economy of our nation and the ongoing moral collapse in our public square had driven me into a deep funk.
The online pictures I had viewed that day of some screeching women carrying baby dolls and wearing clothing doused with fake blood in support of abortion rights plus the news that an economic tsunami is headed our way would have wiped the smile from the face of any optimist.
My trip to the grocery store that afternoon further depressed me, revealing as it did that the rotisserie chicken I bought a year ago for $5.99 now sports a price tag of $7.99.
On arriving home, I unloaded canned goods, rice, and pasta from the trunk of my car, foodstuffs bought to fight inflation and a possible food shortage. I then scanned part of a scholarly work published a decade ago, What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense. Given our present madness regarding LGBT, pride month, and the inability of many people to define the word woman, What Is Marriage? seemed as antiquated as spats and bobbed hair.
All my life I’ve loved my country, even when we’ve quarreled, but on this particular evening America seemed driven into a dark corner, goaded and maddened by radical crazies, and undermined by the very leaders elected to serve and honor her.
In this spirit of gloom, I sat at my dining room table, littered with papers and hillocks of books. There I brooded a bit, dispatching a few emails before going to the porch to watch the sunset. When darkness fell, I returned to the table and my misery, shuffling through to-do lists and bills, glancing now and again at headlines and commentary on my laptop. I felt worn and exhausted, more by my thoughts than by physical fatigue. I wanted to go to bed but hitting the sheets that early would have meant waking at 3 a.m. and staring at the ceiling until dawn.
And then, from one of the piles on the table, I picked up a used book I’d found a few days earlier on the giveaway shelf at my library. Ten Brave Men: Makers of the American Way, by Sonia Daugherty, is an out-of-print collection of mini-biographies told in story form for teenagers, and I thought the older grandkids might enjoy reading it when they visited.
This much-handled hardcover has a frayed and loose binding, its spine marked by a Dewey Decimal number written handwritten in white ink. Opening the book, I found that some kid had drawn a diagram of a football play on the first blank page, which brought a smile. I next discovered that Sonia Daugherty’s stories were illustrated by her husband, James Daugherty, a famous artist of that time. The title page listed the historic figures featured in the book, heroes like William Bradford, Roger Williams, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. It also bore a stamp: “Rahway High School Library.” The next page revealed that Ten Brave Men was published in 1951, the year I was born.
And then the lone words on the opposite page hit me in the face like a bucket of cold water.
I dedicate this book
all those who have the courage
to enlist against tyranny over
the minds of men
That dedication shamed me. What kind of knucklehead was I? Did I not know that despair was only one footstep away from defeat? Was I like one of those summer soldiers and sunshine patriots in Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis, who “shrink from the service of their country?”
In that same pamphlet, published in the dark days of 1776 when the cause of American liberty hung in the balance, Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Today in America we also live in trying times, only our enemies are not British and Hessian troops commanded by a faraway king, but are instead many in our own government and their cohorts who seek the destruction of our Constitution, our laws, and our culture.
Did Sonia Daugherty’s call to oppose tyranny revive my spirits? Not altogether, but I knew that with some sleep and with the morning my mood would pass, as moods often do, and that, God willing, I would be ready, in whatever small way I can, to defend our rights and liberties with hope in my heart.
In the foreword to Ten Brave Men, Daugherty wrote, “All great causes are born of necessity. When a wrong becomes too much to endure, it is a sign that the time for progress has come.”
May this be the time when the unhappy American people begin that progress.
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