The US election has been really getting to me lately. I needed some serious cheering up yesterday, and got it at Mass, ironically through a sermon on death.
I find it hard to resist the idea that no matter who wins the election Tuesday, we all lose. So how to remain optimistic about The Day After? Ultimately we have two choices, don't we: to live in hope, or to live in despair. No matter what we do day to day on stage, we all share the same last act: a cold grave. So how to live happily ever after? I see our old, old dog, wracked with age, and I can see what lies in the near future for him, as he approaches his last Christmas with us. It's the same future in store for us all. So why try to accomplish anything, if it all turns to dust?
How to live in hope of a better future, when the present seems so grim?
I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but if there's one thing I've come to understand on my uphill climb it's that, whether we are happy or sad, whether we are living in hope or in despair, both are ultimately our personal choice. Whether you're picking one or the other, both involve struggle, an exhausting battle with ourselves, within ourselves, to force us to see everything there is to see, leaving nothing out because it might affect the image we expect to find. I work with a colleague who is relentless in seeing the worst in every situation, such is his supreme negativity, and I can see the immense effort this takes, to sustain that kind of overwhelmingly negative and pessimistic point of view. He has to work damn hard to refute my little observations of the good shining all around him. Just as, these days, I have to work equally hard to continue summoning some light at the end of the tunnel.
To move towards the light, to live in hope, to choose to be positive, is not to live a lie, through selective reasoning and clouded judgement. Doubt is necessary to faith, for what else sharpens our wits and exercises the mind sufficiently so that our perception skills are at their peak proficiency for the task at hand: not just to look, but to see, as far as the eye can see... even straining to see a far-off time and place beyond the grave, by placing death in the middle, rather than at the end.
From the pulpit yesterday I was treated to a poem whose stirring message could not have come at a better time for those of us wondering about our tomorrows. What better medicine could there be, what better incentive could there be, to help us dream of a more pleasant Day After Tomorrow..?
Tell me not in mournful numbers,
"Life is but an empty dream!"
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
"Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
"Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us further than to-day.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act -- act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labour and to wait.
H. W. Longfellow
A Psalm Of Life