I’m sitting in our basement with my laptop on my, you know, lap, working on my column and listening to Springsteen on an electronic thing our daughter gave us for Christmas. It’s a terrific tool for a lazy man, except when I call it by the wrong name. Then it sulks, much like my kids did when I inadvertently called them using the dog’s name.
The first song that played was “Badlands.” I’ve always loved the line, “...it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.” I’m going to work on that a little harder in the coming year. Looking in reverse, there’s been so much grim news for so long that some days it feels like the world is nothing but bad news. I believe a little joie de vivre is in order.
It’s not easy. Joy in living doesn’t come naturally to me. For one thing, I continually live in worst-case scenario world. As I told a friend, it’s not a complete coincidence that I live on a farm with a long driveway. The building site is surrounded by a dense grove, I’ve got a big garden, an orchard, and an old building full of laying hens. This summer my plans include a root cellar and a greenhouse. We can heat our house with wood, and I have the tools, if not the skills, to fix almost anything on the farm, except maybe the latte machine. None of that suggests a man with blithe confidence in the future or in the people running the country.
In my defense, there’s a lot to worry about.
Last week was just brutal. I don’t know when I’ll get past it, but my guess is it’s going to be a while.
Just for the sake of personal honesty, so folks can decide to stop reading, I put this all at the feet of President Trump and those who wanted to ride his coattails. After all, it was October 2016 when he first said he probably wouldn’t accept the results of any election he lost. Maya Angelou once said that when someone tells you who they are, believe them.
President Trump lost. Votes weren’t sent to Venezuela to be counted, election workers didn’t stuff thousands of ballots into suitcases, and Vice President Pence did not have the power to change the election results if he wanted to. Sixty failed lawsuits and 90 grumpy judges - many of them appointed by President Trump - agree with me. More people voted for Joe Biden than voted for President Trump and he can’t stand it. It’s no more complicated than that.
Where do we go from here? Get up in the morning and go to work. If people wear masks and get their shots, we should have the pandemic under control by this summer. That can feel like a long way off, particularly if you’ve lost your job or your business is hanging by a thread. We’re not all suffering equally, so as a country, we need to dig deep and help each other make it to the finish line. The economy is a mess, but it’s in better shape than it was after the housing bubble burst in 2008 and we recovered from that.
It’s been a horrible year to be a student, parent, or teacher and you all have my sympathy. On a bright note, life expectancy in the United States is now 78.4 years. That lost year can be made up and there’ll still be a solid 15 years of retirement to work on their golf game.
I’m not being flip. We have problems, but they’re problems we can solve if we face them honestly and openly, with hard work and clear thinking.
And during the efforts, try some joie de vivre. The song, “Whistle While You Work,” was written in the middle of the Great Depression. Think about that. In 1936, unemployment was about 25%, a guy named Hitler was on the rise, and there was nothing about the world that didn’t seem scary and daunting. Whistling didn’t get people through it, of course, but it didn’t hurt. One of my favorite stories is about a guy walking into a small-town grocery store whistling a merry tune. The store was small enough that the woman working at the checkout could follow his progress through the store. When he pushed his cart to the till she said, “It’s so nice to hear someone in a good mood in these dire times.”
He said, “What makes you think I’m in a good mood?”
“Well,” she said, “your whistling.”
“No,” he said, “I'm just whistling in defiance of despair.”
It truly ain’t no sin to be glad you're alive. In fact, it’s kind of a requirement.
Copyright 2021 Brent Olson