The stormy present
“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.” — Abraham Lincoln, in his Second Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862
In the years I’ve been writing and posting at this site, it seems that our family’s trials and challenges have paralleled the larger and more widespread difficulties facing the USA and the entire world. I withdrew from paying much attention to the news after Jeff’s diagnosis hit us in 2012, knowing I had to conserve my energy and stay as grounded in hope as I possibly could. But there is no way to isolate oneself from the calamities of the past few years.
These last twelve months have been especially fraught with personal crises for me, with Daddy’s death, Mama’s decline in health, Jeff’s brain tumor and subsequent treatments, and the overall worsening of his health as the cancer seems impossible to stop for very long.
Likewise, our country and world have been dealing with political turmoil, global terrorism, civil unrest (or outright warfare and genocide in some areas of the world) and the unceasing threats of disease and disaster. In the face of such oppressive realities, is it any wonder so many of us fall prey to despair?
As I’ve written again and again, maintaining faith and nourishing hope do not imply a withdrawal from reality, or a denial of profound sorrow. Grief and pain are inescapable, and we help no one if we try to wish or drink or argue it away.
Instead, we defeat despair when we comfort one another with support and understanding, resolving together that we can and will rise to the occasion. Sometimes, as Lincoln pointed out, this will mean thinking and acting in new ways, moving beyond habits of mind that are no longer useful to anyone, least of all ourselves.
The photo above depicts a framed poster that hangs in the hallway of the Wound Warrior floor at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. It’s just a few doors down from the room where Jeff spent so many weeks in 2013. The poster was created by a U.S. Navy Seal who was gravely wounded in Iraq in 2007. It hung on the door to his room before eventually being framed with medals and photos of him after he recovered many months later.
During the countless times I walked past it during our long, often discouraging weeks at Walter Reed, I often stopped to read it and reflect on the courage of the young man who first wrote those words when facing perhaps the greatest uphill battle of his life. No matter what else was going on, I always felt encouraged by reading it. I know it must have inspired so many others over the years, including the President, whose signature you may recognize near the bottom of the poster.
Maybe you are among those of us who have found many of the recent news stories distressing and depressing. Perhaps you are battling personal challenges too, leaving you drained and exhausted. If so, I can identify. Life seems increasingly piled high with difficulty. Nevertheless, I want to keep alive the spirit of “fun, optimism and intense rapid regrowth” that this Navy Seal pledged to uphold through his lengthy recovery.
I hope we can take heart from the words of our esteemed President Lincoln, and from many others who have given us an example of how to rise above trouble. I am encouraged by your presence here!