I Wonder What The Poor Folks Are Having Tonight?: Savor Churchill’s words, and if it’s the first day of the rest of our lives, then let’s make it count. We were made for difficult times.
The human condition has never been an endless sequence of bunnies, rainbows, and picnics in the park, although those delights are more common now than they used to be.
In our time, as we enjoy the blessings bestowed by industrialization and market economics, it’s easy to forget about the difficulties and struggles that brought us here.
We don’t have to go back very far in history to see some pretty ghastly events. Just in the last century there was Vietnam, Korea, two world wars, polio, Soviet and Chinese communist butchery, the killing fields, the Holocaust, and on and on. How have people survived these things?
Wartime brings stark reality
It’s a major reason why we study wars. In wartime, everything is reduced to its most basic form. It’s about survival. It’s about what matters most. It’s what we do when everything is on the line. We must think and get it right and act wisely or it’s all over. Wartime brings stark reality.
This applies to our own times. We don’t face extinction in a war of survival every day, thank God, but we might face extinction a little further down the line if we neglect the things that are important. The longer we neglect the important things, the steeper becomes the slope toward the abyss.
So there are some questions that apply every day. What direction are we moving? Are things getting a little better each day or a little worse each day? If they’re getting worse, why is that? If they’re getting better, why is that? If things are getting worse, what do we need to do to change course? What do we need to do to move toward something better? If things are good, how do we make them better still?
Our culture celebrates overcoming difficulties and obstacles. We wouldn’t be afforded the celebrations if there were no challenges. Problems and detours offer us opportunities to be our most human selves. We must think. We must make lists. We must dig and explore. We must find new ways. We must use the old ways when they work better. We must overcome the challenges. We must work, because without effort, there is nothing but tedium.
The challenges loom very large these days, it seems, and there’s a case to be made for thinking so. There have been some very large problems in the past, too, but we made it through those okay. They left marks on us, and there are many marks on those who have survived into the 21st Century. But think of them as chevrons on a letter jacket. Those mean we went there and survived to tell the story.
We have not journeyed all this way across the centuries, across the oceans, across the mountains, across the prairies, because we are made of sugar candy
There are many famous Churchill quotes, but this one has always been a favorite. It was December 30, 1941, in the Canadian House of Commons. Just think about what a dark day that must have been! The Japanese had disabled much of the US Fleet at Pearl Harbor and had captured much of the western and southwestern Pacific. Every Allied nation had already suffered appalling defeats at the hands of the Axis Powers. The Germans had conquered most of Europe and stood deep inside the Soviet Union along a vast front. There was no prospect of any Allied victory in the foreseeable future. Most importantly, no one knew what lay ahead. Then Churchill rallied a beleaguered West with the English language and with sarcasm.
We have not journeyed all this way across the centuries, across the oceans, across the mountains, across the prairies, because we are made of sugar candy.
We could say it different ways.
•Is that the best you’ve got?
•You wanna piece of me?
•Come and take it!
•Who do you think you’re dealing with here?
•I’ve seen worse.
Savor Churchill’s words, and if it’s the first day of the rest of our lives, then let’s make it count. We were made for difficult times.
Dr. Bruce Smith (Inkwell, Hearth and Plow) is a retired professor of history and a lifelong observer of politics and world events. He holds degrees from Indiana University and the University of Notre Dame. In addition to writing, he works as a caretaker and handyman. His non-fiction book The War Comes to Plum Street, about daily life in the 1930s and during World War II, may be ordered from Indiana University Press.