As I write this column, the 2018 election is only days away. Depending on the latest headlines and/or poll numbers, I find myself alternating between depression and hope.
I am feeling like Leon Russell up on that tightwire — “one side ice, the other fire.” I wonder how I — how we — will be feeling on Wednesday, November 7? Journalist and essayist H.L. Mencken wrote, “The whole aim of politics is to keep the populace alarmed, and hence clamorous to be led to safety, by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” Mencken died 62 years ago. Who knew that, so many years ago, he was predicting the state of American political life in 2018? “The caravan of invading immigrants is coming, a caravan filled with gangsters and terrorists and disease. They are going to overwhelm our communities. Be afraid, be very afraid. And only I can protect you and your children!” It is a made-up crisis, a “hobgoblin,” a lie. There is no flood of criminal immigrants waiting at the border. But it is a great way of keeping the populace alarmed. And my darkest fear is that it will work. If the Fear Monger-in-Chief wins on Tuesday; if racism and divisiveness and hate speech win out…then it truly will feel — to me — that we as a nation have lost our soul.
But wait, Gene. Back off for a moment. More than once, in sermons and columns over the years, I have shared the words of a colleague who insisted that “Despair is a form of atheism.” What he meant was that when we give in to despair, which could be very tempting after the election, we are saying that all hope is lost, that there is nothing to be done, that things will never change, that not even God and faith can make a difference. So perhaps I do need to take a step back and look deeply into my own fearful heart. After all, in the words of another preacher, “Roses grow out of horse manure. And if we live in a world where roses grow out of horse manure, who are we to embrace despair?” I must not allow my heart to be “colonized by fear.”
So what to do? You may recall the name, Isak Dinesen. She was an extraordinary woman who had the gift of appreciating every day, making every day count for something and allowing even an often difficult life to bring her joy. The film “Out of Africa” was based on her life and writings. Toward the end of her life, having lost her devoted friend, facing the bankruptcy of her African farm and in ill health, she wrote these words: “You must not think I am frightfully depressed and see everything in a tragic light. That is not at all the case. On the contrary, I think that these difficult times have helped me to understand better than ever before how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way….”
Thanks, Isak. Thanks for reminding me that while I cannot do everything, I can do something. I cannot be everywhere, but I can be somewhere. I cannot love and care for all of humankind, but can love and care for those who are near at hand. Each day, no matter how the election turns out, I can choose to use the gifts I have been given to help mend the part of the world that is within my reach. Thanks for reminding me that hope is the place where human existence is energized and drawn into the future. As long as there is hope, there is life.
Gene Nelson is the retired pastor of the Sebastopol Community Church.