Candles in the Darkness: Dealing With Despair in Crazy Times

June 16, 2020 Updated: June 16, 2020

Most of us who have lived through the spring of 2020 will remember this season as a time of pandemic, quarantine, bungling experts, over-reaching government mandates, riots and mayhem in our cities, preposterous if not insane proposals for change in our laws, massive virtual signaling, and some politicians and members of the mainstream media, whose policies and opinions strike the rest of us as deranged.

As a consequence, ordinary Americans have lived through three months of fear and uncertainty. Many remain unemployed because their businesses were closed as “non-essential.” Graduations and weddings were postponed. Government policies prevented families from saying goodbye to their dying loved ones. People due for elective surgery, which simply means a scheduled operation, found their medical treatment delayed for weeks.

Then, came the riots in various cities over the death of a black man at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis. Across the country, looters and vandals sacked thousands of stores and businesses, set fires, and attacked the police trying to protect these establishments. In the wake of these disturbances, radicals have proposed defunding police departments or eradicating them altogether.

Dark Clouds

Some are wondering whether the country will survive such a beating. The owner of an auto repair shop here in Front Royal, Virginia; a young dad with a family of three young boys; a close friend; my daughter: All have raised the question, “Is America finished?”

That possibility fills these family members and friends with sorrow and hopelessness. They feel alone, ignored, and irrelevant.

For most of us, the only tangible way of fighting against the ugly mess is to vote in the November elections. We can write or call our mayors, governors, and representatives in Congress to express our frustration, but the ballots we cast this election year are vital. They’ll mean the difference between freedom and socialism.

But what about now? How do we fight off the darkness that surrounds us and often threatens to engulf us? How do we personally cope with the lunatics and barbarians who openly announce plans to bring America to her knees? How do we stay sane in a time of insanity?

Here are some ways that have worked for me.

Friends

Because of their politics, two men I know feel shut down, unable to express themselves freely to their wives and grown children. Any discussion of national issues opens a can of worms, leading to hurt feelings and estrangement. Another man familiar to me told me in passing that he often felt deeply disheartened by national events. He would watch the evening news, follow events on his laptop, and sink into a dark and lonely place.

We can fight these bleak moods by finding some like-minded men or women with whom we can vent about current events. My friend John and I have talked three or four times a week since the lockdown, grousing about the impositions of our government and laughing at some of the banalities. Those conversations are therapeutic, allowing us to blow off some pent-up steam and get on with living.

Limit the News

One of my friends told me recently that she hadn’t watched any news for a week. Given the dangerous upheavals in our country, it is, I think, imperative to stay abreast of the turmoil. We need to find trustworthy news outlets and online sites, and keep informed about the dangers threatening our country.

On the other hand, if we watch television news for hours at a time, with its repetitive negativity and drumbeat of gloom and doom, we risk sinking into depression and fear.

Moderation in all things, including televised news, is key to maintaining our balance.

Fake It Till We Make It

If we have children or grandchildren, it behooves us to conceal our pessimism and wild conjectures from them. A Pennsylvania mother I know rarely takes her younger children to the grocery store because she doesn’t want them to think masks are normal. She doesn’t exclude them from discussions with her husband about the riots, but both Mom and Dad are careful to keep check on their emotions and opinions whenever the kids are around.

Whatever our emotional take on current events, we owe those close to us a guarded optimism. We’re going through some very tough times—the crazies won’t simply disappear—and we can’t tackle the future by falling into despair.

By putting on this armor of optimism, however feigned, we not only give courage to others, but also find the strength to battle our own demons of depression.

Counting Our Blessings

Many of us, including me, have trouble with this one. We get so wrapped up in disasters large or small that we forget the good in our lives. In my case, I am in reasonable health, have four children who are married and with children of their own—of course, those grandkids are the best in the world—and I love the work I do.

And yet one small foul-up can send me into a tailspin.

Just this week, for example, I bought some weed-killer, stowed the plastic jug in the trunk of my car, and drove home. When I went to retrieve the bottle, I found the top had fallen off the jug, and about a gallon of weed killer was sloshing around the plastic lining of the trunk. It took me half an hour to clean everything up, but it took me another three or four hours to get over my funk.

A friend of mine, Frankie, once told me of an acquaintance who urged him to play the lottery. “You win the lottery, Frankie, and you’ll be rich.”

“I already won the lottery.”

“What do you mean?”

“I was born in America in the middle of the 20th century.”

Now there’s a man who understands gratitude.

Remembering Who We Are

Whether we are newly minted citizens or whether we can trace our family tree to Plymouth Rock and Jamestown, we all share one thing in common: We are Americans. We are the sons and daughters of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, of Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King, of Abigail Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and a host of others whose names are recorded in our history books or who lie in anonymous graves after sacrificing their lives for their country.

As Americans, we have natural rights no government may take away. Our country has its flaws—lately, some contend those flaws run so deep that the country must be destroyed—but America remains the envy of much of the world, as may be seen by the number of immigrants who wish to live here.

A few months ago, I was sitting on the front porch of my daughter’s house when a car pulled into the driveway and two women, evangelicals going door to door as it turned out, walked up the sidewalk to greet me. Though I politely declined their desire to read the Bible with me, one of them asked, “Sir, are you pessimistic about the future?”

I thought for a moment, and then said, “I have grandchildren. I can’t afford the luxury of pessimism.”

She nodded approvingly. “I have grandchildren too, and feel the same way,” she said. “God bless you.”

Let’s reject despair over our present difficulties. Let’s do battle together and put this nation back on its feet one person at a time.

Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.