Thankful to be hopeful
"But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into great trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out. Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.” — E.B. White
These few sentences were written by my hero, E.B. White, on 30 March 1973. It was in response to a letter he received by a man who noted the “bleak future of the human race,” and wanted some perspective. White was an objective guy, and his writing was precise, and worldly. (He was also a sailor who loved dogs. Just sayin’.) We are living in contentious times, and the recent election has drawn vitriol and invective from both sides. We get it; politics is a blood sport. We can dislike the candidates, there is no problem with this; we’re lucky to have a choice. This election however, displayed a lack of civility and comportment. Not much shocks me these days, but this did.
When I get jammed up with stuff that bothers me I can talk to my wife, and she puts things in perspective. During the election she was in China, so verbs, nouns, adjectives, bi-labial fricatives and plosive sounds — cursing — were bouncing off the walls of our house. The dogs looked befuddled as the master of said house mumbled. After a few days, it became apparent to me that who won or lost was not what got my ire rolling. The current state of our divided country is what bothered me. Furthermore, the world’s take on this election also concerned me. Without the wisdom of the bride to tap into, I started to ask myself, “What would dad think about this current state of affairs?”
My dad was of old Yankee stock, and he was a practical guy; he didn’t say much but he missed nothing. When he spoke, we all marked him well. He was orphaned at 17, and his best friend’s family took him in and gave him a home — a shot at something better. Both my dad and his adopted brother went into the service. My dad went into a flight training program to fly F4U Corsairs for the Navy. One of his local friends from Seekonk crashed his aircraft and was killed — he was 21 — while doing a carrier landing off San Diego — a tricky maneuver. A week before he died he had told my dad that the plane was “unruly” and “powerful” and he had misgivings about carrier night landings. The Navy was fast-tracking pilots for the Corsair and the statistics were against my dad. He saw the writing on the wall and opted out of training; he was an only child and wanted a family. He finished his hitch and met my mom and raised four kids. His brother John was a medic. He returned home from the European theatre to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, with a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and a Silver Star. I came up with men like this. These were the kinds of guys who stood up when a woman entered a room. They were men with a quiet resolve. And, they were polite. Once, I used a foul word toward one of my sisters — big mistake. There was no discussion of what I said. A closed fist hitting my face shut that kind of thing right down — ‘nuff said.
Let’s face it, we’re all flawed and on a slippery slope. We’re human and we make mistakes. That said, it is very hard for all of us to take the high road. While running the dogs, my dad’s voice rose from the ether, “Wait and see, it’s all you can do.” Check. “Be kind.” Check. “Don’t complain, do something.” Check. My dad’s words gave me some perspective. This entire nation is seeking perspective. The boat is rocking and the seas are rough, but the ship will be stabilized or bad things will happen and no one wants that; we’re all in the same boat. (A boat metaphor is all I’ve got for you. So, you need to roll with it.)
My wife’s a big traveler. Before she takes off on airplanes to witness the world, she learns greetings and salutations for whatever place she’s visiting: Germany, France, Thailand, Peru, Slovenia, Italy, Turkey, China, et al. Then, she learns to say please and thank you — simple but profound stuff. This is what we teach our children, right? It is the beginnings of a code of polite behavior. At the docks, my co-workers are polite. We say “please” and “thank you,” to each other. We work in a sometimes extremely busy, harsh, and hectic environment. We realize we are all in this gig together and by being polite and working together, it makes for a smooth operation. Don’t get me wrong, we bust on each other, too. But, it’s not mean-spirited. That is counterproductive behavior. Furthermore, it’s bad form and can be exhausting. Ahem, just like this last election. Finally, like my hero E.B. White, I will wind my clock — set my iPhone alarm — hang on to my hat, and be thankful to be hopeful for the future of this great country.
Happy Thanksgiving, from the Ferry Dock Scribbler.
This column was written on Nov. 11, Veteran’s Day.