Recently, I emailed a friend in a disheartened mood about the new pandemic lockdowns, including more dictates from the governor here in Virginia, about the elections, and about the glum mood of our nation this holiday season.
Here is her reply: “Evil times, yes. But as a friend told me, we should be happy we live in these times. When else has the meaning of life been so clear? When else has standing up for truth been so important? This is the greatest adventure in a very long time.”
Coincidentally, during his homily the following Sunday, our priest counseled against giving way to despair in dark times and referenced this exchange between the hobbit Frodo and the wizard Gandalf in “Lord of the Rings”:
Frodo: “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”
Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
As we near the end of this awful year of pandemic, lockdowns, riots, and election fraud, we delude ourselves if we believe that a change in the calendar will magically erase the gloom and turmoil plaguing our country. Indeed, given the battered state of our nation, our troubles may become even worse.
And so, as I pondered the messages of encouragement from my friend and the priest, I began searching for ways to battle against the black mood that sometimes threatens to engulf me as well as others I know in these ugly times. Here are four steps that should help us keep our spirits up.
Step 1: Recognition
The circumstances in which we live are as they are. Trying to wish our problems away or pretending they don’t exist is no solution. The homeowner who ignores the need to replace his roof will soon have water dripping into the living room.
Here, Gandalf’s words and the priest’s message ring true: These are the times given us, and we must decide not whether but how we will face adversity. This is the first step of any project: to acknowledge a problem and then figure out how to address it.
In my case, elected officials and bureaucrats behaving like dictators generally prompt my dark melancholy. It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to see that governments around the world are hungry for greater control over the lives of their citizens. Our daily headlines proclaim it so. In Europe, in Canada, and in the United States, our national governments grow larger and more aggressive by the year, making ordinary men and women feel more like voiceless serfs than free citizens.
There: I had identified a cause for my unhappiness.
Next up, the second step.
Step 2: Limitations, Acceptance, and Wisdom
Before taking any action, we must recognize our limitations. My son-in-law can build everything from bookcases to houses, whereas I am in no way a hammer-and-nail kind of guy.
The same holds true when we wrestle with larger issues. Take the pandemic, for example. We wake one morning and discover that our governor has again locked down our schools, churches, restaurants, and small businesses. This news has deep and dire implications for us or for some of our friends, and we rage against the government’s stupidity, or else flop back into bed and pull a blanket over our heads.
Because we’re helpless to change or influence these mandates, we find ourselves further disheartened, brought low by forces beyond our control. Masks and restrictions may also make us feel isolated, and we slog through each day with chains hanging on our hearts.
It’s then we might remember Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer, which even the atheist author of “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand, admired for its “eloquent simplicity” and its “mental attitude which a rational man must seek to achieve.” Here are words which, if we heed them, can bring a 180-degree change in our attitude: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
By accepting that we cannot change the governor’s edicts, we can look for ways we can change the effects of those edicts. If he closes our schools, we can consider withdrawing altogether from the system and homeschooling our children. If he forbids gatherings of more than 6 people in our homes, we can invite 12 people to a holiday party. If he closes down our gym, we can join others and make our voices heard, as did a group of protesters in Buffalo, New York.
Step 3: Take Action
Right now, “the courage to change the things I can” is already a living motto for millions of Americans, and the past four years in particular have heartened those who for so long have felt themselves the losers in our cultural wars. Events on the national stage have roused an army of ordinary people determined to resist in whatever way they can a government bent on devouring their natural liberties.
A woman I know teaches her children the Pledge of Allegiance and songs and stories celebrating our past. She has also experienced a political awakening this year and now boldly defends conservative principles on Facebook, losing some “friends” and taking some heat but refusing to back down. Her husband helps coach their older son’s rugby team and instills in his players the principles of fair play. An in-law of mine teaches political science and Constitutional law to classes of home-educated students, showing them how our republic is supposed to function. The young husband and wife who live across the street from me have become more politically engaged, discussing events with family and friends, and refusing to adhere to some of our governor’s more extreme pandemic edicts.
From the homeschooling families whose children I once taught to friends, neighbors, and family members, I know scores of people who every day mount the battlements and defend our liberty and culture. Small deeds, yes, most of these, but they add up.
Step 4: Seek Allies
For decades, the radical left has run roughshod over conservatives and centrists, capturing our schools, driving the public discourse, and leaving the rest of us baffled and defeated, foot soldiers in a lost cause.
Because the left in this election showed its true colors, many Americans—Republicans and Democrats—turned their backs on them, voting for conservative candidates from the House of Representatives to state legislatures. Radicals in this election suffered a major setback.
Which means we have allies, millions of them. We have family members and friends on our side, and for the sake of our mental and spiritual health, it’s important for us to remain in contact with them. When we are disheartened, we should seek encouragement from them, and offer them the same.
Remember: We are not alone.
Winston Churchill once said something that was similar to the encouragement offered by my friend: “Do not let us speak of darker days; let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days: these are great days—the greatest days our country has ever lived.”
Let us entertain no delusions. Churchill’s “sterner days” lie ahead of us. Those who would radically transform the United States of America will not give up their efforts, and we must resist them. Small deeds, forming bonds with others in the resistance, and keeping our morale high are for now our best weapons against those who would oppress us.
So, rather than become dismayed or depressed, let’s look at these times as a special opportunity to defend our liberties and, as my friend says, to join in “the greatest adventure in a very long 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. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust On Their Wings,” and two works of nonfiction, “Learning As I Go” and “Movies Make The Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.