6/22/12 Hope Springs From Despair

All of mankind has hopes and dreams. Sometimes these hopes and dreams are hijacked by circumstances beyond our control, or by bad choices we make for which we never paused to consider the outcomes, or by our own ignorance. This leads us to despair.

I first became familiar with the phrase, ”Most men live lives of quiet desperation,” as an opening for James Thurber’s short story, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It was much later when I learned that Thurber borrowed this from Thoreau. There is great wisdom in this, for we have all seen it in ourselves. We quietly go about our lives with a desperation that we are afraid to face, desperately wanting some greater fulfillment than we have, desperately longing for some goal that seems unattainable: for fame, for fortune, for power and influence, desperately clinging to our lowly place on the food chain, lest we discover that we have slipped a notch or two. Desperately . . . despairingly.

Sometimes the despair we feel we bring on ourselves; sometimes for no apparent reason. Despair is a human trait. Other animals respond and react, but we humans despair, and our desparity almost always leads us to paralysis and lamentation, until in our desperation we reach the bottom . . . the end of our rope . . . and discover that there are only two more directions for us . . . OUT or UP. This is a remarkable place for a person to be, because when only those two directions are left, they give birth to a very real, and comforting, HOPE.

It is with a very real and certain despair that many, many people are fighting to keep their upside down mortgages from default in this economy that has its own momentum, despite what politicians promise in the way of help. It is with despair that the dreams of so many are being dashed to bits in the pounding surf of a heavy, angry tide rushing in to put underwater places that were once high and dry, but perched precariously too close to the water’s edge.

But humans are optimistic beyond measure, frequently when there is no logical basis for them to have any optimism at all, because we always have the hope that things will get better, and when that fails us, we have the hope of OUT. From hope comes endurance, persistence, faith, perseverance, planning, action, and a better peace. From despair comes nothing BUT hope. Despair is the mother of hope. Despair is the nurturer of hope. Born out of our despair is a hope that feeds on despair, at first like blowflies feed on rotting flesh, which decaying, turns into nutrients that feeds the wildflowers which in time, with those nutrients and the light from the sun, will bloom into a variety of colors, leaving us wondering where our despair went, or even better, leaving us with no memory of it.

Some despair that the shoes they wanted are no longer available in their size. Some despair over the cries of their children who went to bed with empty bellies. The former is ludicrous, the later despairing to consider. When our despair stems from our desires, we should be sure and check our desires to see if they are worthy of the pain of despair. We should check our desires to see if they are worthy of the joy of the hope born of despair.

We despair because of our powerlessness, and whatever power we seem to have is either an ephemeral phenomenon, or entirely an illusion in which we have been lucky participants. If we had the power to change our circumstances (and some of us do) our despair would not last long; but so often, those things over which we despair are things we have absolutely no power to control.

Despair over the circumstances of others whom we love, and the choices they make, or the choices they are forced to make because of conditions they cannot control (which are not really choices, are they?) is a particularly hard despair, because we can only be bystanders, not participants. Sometimes our participation only leads us to support the things which create the despair we observe. Any parent of a child with an addiction can confirm this. We despair that our help turns into a license of that which we know destroys. We despair at the railings those to whom we have denied assistance, knowing that our denial is good and proper, and we despair at being manipulated. Sometimes, we just despair over the plight of others, observing a downward spiral which we know will lead to a crash and burn, but we have no net to catch them, nor a cushion to put in the place where we anticipate their impact. We just stand there, like Walter Mitty, nervously whistling, thinking ourselves as captains of our own fate, and the fates of others, saying to ourselves under our breath, “Ta-poketa, ta-poketa, ta-poketa . . .”

Eventually, our despair subsides and hope begins to manifest itself. But hope is fragile at first, and can be dashed to bits on that rocky shore time and time again; yet every time hope is dashed to bits, it leaves more hope seeds to spring forth and take root. It only takes one hope seed to sprout and put down roots, then it starts to feed on the very thing that would kill it, growing stronger and stronger until hope leads us out of despair to a much better place, even if we are still powerless to prevent those things that brought on the despair. It is hope that brings us to the wisdom of acceptance of that which we cannot change. It is hope we will have for breakfast this morning. It tastes much better than the despair we ate yesterday.

While our first hope is always for UP, there is the despair that leads to hope for OUT. My friend Pete, one of my brother’s mentors and all time best friends, is dealing with the despair that leads to OUT. After losing 90% of his colon immediately behind an abrupt diagnosis of Stage IV colon cancer which has spread to his liver and pancreas, my brother and Pete’s family watch and wait with increasing despair as Pete’s body steadily fails him. They hope for a turn for the better. They despair that the doctors tell them he is too far gone. They despair as they see this once vital, strong, powerful man retreat to the place where his hope has turned to OUT. The hope for UP is the hope we have for others. Sometimes, the hope for OUT is what others have for themselves. Colliding, counter-productive hopes . . . they lead to strife, which is certainly one of the fathers of despair; yet despair is the mother of hope.

I wonder what Walter Mitty wanted from his life of quiet desperation? Did he hope for Up or Out?

Either way, he would have had some relief.

For all you who asked, I was not in despair for myself, but others. I do not lead a life of quiet desperation. I am not Walter Mitty, nor am I most men, though at times, it certainly seems so. I will DO what I CAN, and will accept those things over which I have no control . . . but the things over which I have no control had best be vigilant, lest I find the chink in their armor and they discover they aren’t quite as powerful as they thought. That is my illusion. That is my HOPE.

“There abides these three: Faith, Hope, and Love. But, the greatest of these is Love,” said the Apostle Paul in my paraphrase of 1 Corinthians Chapter 13. There is little despair can accomplish when confronted with these three.

Walter Mitty? He despaired over the mundane quietness of his life, and a nagging wife. Having either one of these could be the HOPE of many.

We should learn the wisdom of being grateful for what we have, and less despairing over that which we perceive we lack. I hope we learn that lesson. I hope we all learn it soon. I hope that once we learn it, we cling to it with a noisy desperation as we see the circumstances of life trying to wrest it from our grasp.

6/6/12 Stay out of Mississippi

The excerpt below came from the website www.scottwalkerwatch.com.

Walker may not be able to finish his term after being indicted for his crimes as both governor and Milwaukee County Executive, but Wisconsin may be guaranteed to be headed to becoming a backwater, flyover state where the environment will be decimated, where schools will be corporatized and become laughable failures, where more teens will become pregnant or get sexually transmitted diseases due to ignorance taught in schools about sex education, where women can be reminded they don’t have equal rights, where science related to stem cell research will go to other more intelligent states, where universities will have a brain drain where the most talented teachers exit, where poor children, seniors, the disabled and students will have to do more with a lot less. No major companies offering decent jobs with liveable wages will move to Wisconsin. Walker has poisoned the well and he’s grabbing for more poison with his divisiveness and extremist tendencies. Walker’s Wisconsin may become the Northern version of Mississippi. [emphasis mine]

Add that to North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue’s statement, “We look like Mississippi,” in response to Amendment 1, which banned same-sex marriages, and passed by a 61% margin. She, in effect, was chiding 61% of North Carolinians for how they voted in saying they looked like Mississippians. Mississippi’s Governor, Phil Bryant said, in response, that he was disappointed that Perdue’s petty jab about Mississippi was used to disparage a popular vote in her own state.

Couple that with Bill Maher’s Mississippi bashing. (see my 3/12/12 post on this blog)

Mississippi is everyone’s whipping boy these days. If you step out of line, the danger is that you’ll be accused of looking like a Mississippian.

Everyone who is obese (maybe even a little chubby) looks like a Mississippian, since Mississippi has the highest obesity rate in the country.

Everyone who got pregnant as a teenager looks like a Mississippian (and by the way, everyone who ever impregnated a teenager must look like a Mississippian, too, since pregnancies rarely occur spontaneously.)

Everyone who has diabetes looks like a Mississippian.

Everyone who has heart disease looks like a Mississippian.

Everyone who is a racist looks like a Mississippian.

Everyone who is missing teeth looks like a Mississippian.

Everyone who does not support same-sex marriages looks like a Mississippian.

Everyone who ever got a sexually transmitted disease looks like a Mississippian.

Everyone who is illiterate looks like a Mississippian.

Everyone who ever dropped out of high school looks like a Mississippian.

Everyone who lives below the poverty line looks like a Mississippian.

Everyone who has children in a failing public school looks like a Mississippian.

Everyone who likes guns looks like a Mississippian.

Everyone who likes the idea of a RIGHT-TO-WORK state looks like a Mississippian.

Everyone who smokes cigarettes looks like a Mississippian (North Carolinians should love us).

Every Pennsylvanian, who, when frustrated, cling to their guns and their religion MUST, by extension, look like a Mississippian.

Joe McCarthy could not REALLY be from Wisconsin, looking too much like a Mississippian.

Jeffrey Dahmer was obviously a Mississippian.

Charles Manson was a closet Mississippian.

If you behave badly in public, cause riots, occupy and trash property that is not yours, defecate in public, display bad manners, eat meat, drive a pick-up truck, deer hunt, attend church, have any religious beliefs which you will take seriously, are somewhat skeptical of the political-science of mankind related global warming, think that no one ever really set foot on the moon, believe in a creator, or have ever examined the evidence offered by anthropologists and paleontologists and decided that they may not have all the answers . . . then you look like a Mississippian.

Based on the above, there is a whole world of Mississippians out there who look remarkably like YOU, though there are many Mississippians who don’t even look like Mississippians. In spite of that, they manage to live here, work here, raise their children here, and live productive, fulfilling lives here. One would think that would be impossible, given the negative statistics about Mississippi. We’ve been getting a lot of bad press lately. I suppose in the malaise and doldrums of the recession, people in other states can fall back on the premise, “At least we’re not from Mississippi.” No, you’re not, and that’s OK with most of us Mississippians.

Here are some things for you to consider when pondering Mississippi and Mississippians. We have terrible, dangerous weather, from tornadoes to hurricanes. It gets awfully hot and muggy here in the summertime, and it rains all winter. Everyone here suffers from sinus related maladies due to the constantly variable weather and pollen from all the mass of vegetation that grows nearly as wildly as it does in an Amazonian jungle. The lower Mississippi river backs up and floods nearly half the state from time to time. We are still mostly rural here, and for some strange reason, are mostly neighborly, but don’t let that fool you, since in our hearts we are anti-neighbor.

We also do not have any music here. Modern American music does not have its roots in Mississippi. Charley Patton, Son House, Bo Carter, Lonnie Carter, Sam Chatmon, Skip James, Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, John Hurt, Howling Wolf, Bukka White, Big Joe Williams, R.L Burnside, Elvis, Jimmie Rodgers, William Grant Still (how long do you want the list to be???) . . . none of them were really from Mississippi.

We have no literate population here, nor any writers from Mississippi worth any note: William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, John Grisham, Larry Brown, Shelby Foote, Willie Morris . . .  nope, not a one of them was really from Mississippi.

MUPPETS creator Jim Henson was not from Greenville, Mississippi, either.

We have never had any sports figures get any national attention: Not Archie Manning, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Red Barber, Dizzy Dean, Brett Favre, Lance Alworth, Jerry Rice, Ray Guy, Walter Payton, Claude Passeau . . . nope, not a one of them has a Mississippi connection.

Medicine? Mississippi has never made any contributions to medicine. Everyone knows that in 1936, Dr. Leslie V. Rush did not perform the first bone pin insertion in the United States, nor was he the inventor of the “Rush Pin” which is still in use today. If he did, then he was certainly not a Mississippian. Nor did Dr. James D. Hardy perform the world’s first heart transplant at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in 1964. Nope, not here.

By the way, did you know that Air force, Navy and USMC jet pilots do not earn their wings in Mississippi, nor does Mississippi build Navy Aegis-class cruisers, amphibious assault ships, or submarines, since Northrop/Grumman does not have a shipyard in Pascagoula. Advanced helicopters are not built in Mississippi since American Eurocopter does not have a plant here. Nor are advanced, explosive-resistant armored vehicles built here since every soldier prefers an unprotected canvas-covered HumVee while driving in the presence of IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lockheed does not have a plant here, and none of the critical components for the modern generation of stealth fighters and transport aircraft are built here. Nor are the engines for Peterbilt trucks built here, and neither does Nissan and Toyota have a plant here. The new Corolla you are driving was NOT built in Mississippi  neither is the Nissan Altima. Nor was the Flexible Flyer SNOW SLED you rode on as a child built in Mississippi (Think about that for a minute . . . SNOW SLEDS from MISSISSIPPI). John B. Stetson never made hats in Mississippi. The fancy Viking range in your home was not built in Mississippi. Those Peavey speakers, Peavey amplifiers, Peavey PA Systems, and Peavey guitars, seen, sold and used the world over, are not made in Mississippi. Winchester does not make rifle ammunition here in Mississippi, nor did they just add several hundred thousand square feet to expand the plant they don’t have here. Southwire, one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of high voltage underground electrical cables, does not have a plant here in Mississippi, since the manufacture of such things are far too complex for Mississippians. We don’t have any engineers, scientists, or physicians here in Mississippi. The only person with a PHD in Mississippi recently moved out of the state, but fortunately we are able to rent then from Alabama, which also loans us shoes on special occasions (Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, etc.). We simply don’t have people in Mississippi who are capable of doing technically advanced jobs . . . or research. The National Center for Physical Acoustics is not located on the campus of Ole Miss, nor is one of the world’s largest supercomputers. There is simply noting here that contributes to the world’s quality of life. We don’t even have any agriculture here. No hospitals, no pharmacies, no physicians, no health-care at all. We don’t even have  a Wal-Mart in Mississippi.

We can’t get Al Gore’s internet in Mississippi. I suppose this blog post is proof of that.

We don’t even have electricity in Mississippi; excuse me while I fetch another candle so I can see to type this on my pedal-powered computer.

Why, the sun doesn’t even shine here, making solar panels useless, so I suppose I am glad we will finally get some electricity here since The Southern Company is building a technologically state-of-the-art green energy power generation plant here that will turn otherwise useless lignite into a clean, combustible gas, using technology that will capture the carbon dioxide and allow its re-use by being injected into non-performing or low performing oil fields to restore them to productivity while sequestering the carbon, prohibiting it from being emitted back into the atmosphere. Nope, that could never happen in Mississippi. Nor could there be any people smart enough to run a nuclear power plant here, such as the one that does not exist at Grand Gulf.

While I do not like the cheesiness of the quotation that started this, please let me make it clear that I do like Wisconsin’s cheese. Wisconsinites, just send the cheese, please. There’s little else we’d like sent down here, unless accompanied by good manners.

There are a lot of things about Mississippi’s past that I, like so many others, am not comfortable with . . . but I didn’t live then; I live now. I can’t do a thing about what happened then, other than govern my actions NOW. If you want to come to Mississippi and can govern your actions, use some common civility, then like so many others, you’d be welcomed here, and find friends and plenty to last a dozen lifetimes. Hard times, bitterness . . . even toothlessness . . . can occur at random at any place one is AT. One does not have to come to Mississippi to find it. You can find it right at home.

There is a national charity, I hear, that is collecting used dentures for free distribution in Mississippi. Nearly three million people have signed up to get these free teeth. The word is that this used-denture collection and distribution effort is being sponsored by ACORN, who is finally going to do something useful. We need more teeth in Mississippi. I hear that this program will allow the used dentures to be placed in special, portable display cases, so when one is accused of having no teeth, they can be taken out of your pocket and presented for examination like a diploma to any interested, skeptical parties. Mississippi’s only dentist retired from practice almost two years ago; maybe the President’s AmeriCorp program can get us a new one. One should be enough.

I regret to say that many suppose we have no CULTURE here; but I reckon the folks who study culture by profession are unable to realize that it is impossible to be uncultured, unless smart folks have more than one definition for culture. I find it odd to hear anthropologists studying naked Amazonians and penis-sheathed New Guineans describing their culture, yet somehow, to many, Mississippi remains without culture (uncultured). We find the folks who want to study us as somewhat of a cultural oddity themselves: peculiarly self-righteous and mostly misinformed, particularly about the contributions and value of the results of their studies. Oddly, we still find a reason to like to living our lives here. Since everyone has access to a vehicle (There are nearly as many cars here as TEETH, but most of them are perched on concrete blocks in front yards in the finest of trailer parks and gated, fairway laced communities), and one can move freely about in this country, you’d think no one would be left in Mississippi, though I did hear that many Mississippians left for Wisconsin and Minnesota because of their far more generous welfare benefits. I’m sure the Wisconsinites and Minnesotans are glad about that. Maybe the (former) Mississippians they know there have little similarity to the ones who remained here, lived here, worked here, and are ultimately buried here; but I am speculating in a most obese, poverty-stricken, artery-clogged, diabetic and uncultured manner . . . you’ll please pardon my speculation. You might want to speculate about my speculation for a bit and make up your own mind. Better yet, get your own car off the concrete blocks and come on down to Mississippi for a visit. It is, after all, “The Hospitality State.”

We Mississippians always laugh to each other when describing Yankees. There are two kinds: Yankees and Damn Yankees. The Yankees live up North and occasionally come down here on business or pleasure. The Damn Yankees come down here and stay the rest of their lives. There are more than a few. They are our friends and our neighbors. They are welcome here . . . but it is a secret that we Mississippians preferred did not get out too far. We’ll keep it for ourselves. If we run our mouths too much, we might begin to sound like North Carolina’s Governor, which is what happens when one says something without having anything at all to say. One might say Governor Perdue is somewhat lacking in political sophistication for being out of touch with 61% of her electorate . . . an odd place for a politician. She certainly lacks grace. What else does she lack, I wonder?

Bad Press!!! Is there another kind?

By the way, congratulations, Scott Walker. Wisconsinites have spoken, TWICE!! Perhaps now, we’ll get to see some Mississippi-looking folks in action at the state capitol in Madison, and I’m not referring to the elected officials who actually show up for work.

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