Hope Without Ceasing
By Austin C. Bonds
July 30, 2009
“Anxiety is fear of one’s self.”
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
I listened closely to the nightly news recently, the economy still the unavoidable subject of conversation. Anchor Brian Williams noted unemployment once more (now 7.6%). The melancholy story encased in this difficult, trying reality is the appearance of camping tents rising up across the nation. Shaky labor markets (in all sectors) are inducing layoffs; accordingly, mortgage payments go delinquent. Foreclosures take homeowners into the street. Citizens are clustering together in tents, obtaining temporary work as it becomes available. Another story in the same segment reveals a married couple in Japan temporarily placing their child in foster home, a couple who’s also homeless. Both worked for a company owned by Toyota, placing tires on new vehicles. But like General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, the car maker is cutting production, and as a result, suppliers feel the pinch, too. Workers feel the sting most.
Personal stories like this are but a sliver of the pain (emotional, physical, financial, spiritual) running through the world right now. Is it a stretch to postulate all people are the creators of this reality, artists of the current sadness, failure? Each person can blame the actions of another (investment bankers, lenders, corporations, Clinton, Bush, Paulson, Madoff, God), but are the collective efforts of all worth scrutinizing closely? Yes. However, blame can be debated later. The time for healing is now: healing lives, healing hearts, healing dreams.
I consider the subject of dreams in this moment, and two songs form the foundation for rumination. The first is “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” (2004) by Green Day. The video for the song opens with a car breaking down in the desert. The band members emerge and start a walk through dusty roads, abandoned housing dotting the landscape. This snapshot is fitting as one ponders the current market for real estate; banks own more homes, values are falling and urban blight is dropping anchor. The video unfolds into a city next. Citizens go forth in daily living, but I see an evident numbness, indifference, apathy. Incidentally, a line in the song confirms this perception: “Check my vital signs to know I’m still alive and I walk alone.” I walk alone.As I reflect back on 2008, I will be the first to admit my internal disposition contorted to this thought, the solitary journey to find a way. Like most, I managed my pain well externally, but dropped the mask in private moments before God. In the Scriptures, David comments on this heartache in a potent prayer to God on the presence of feeling alone: “Out of the depths I cry to you. Hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” Do we all feel mired in a brooding depth right now? How is the depth defined? Is it a drowning sensation in bills, medical expenses, loss of income? Is it a reduction in hope and dreams?
Dreams are consistently evident in the Scriptures. The recurring context is framed in terms of revelation, visions people (kings, prophets, slaves) have concerning war, famine, victory, failure, life and death. Today, dreams are underscored by a positive, successful outlook for the future. Hence the American dream, rags to riches, Cinderella, a dropout rising to greatness. Strangely, dreams take me back to Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio (1940). His stirring song invites all with a child’s heart to “wish upon a star.” Take history: Might this quest to succeed stem in part from the Declaration of Independence? Consider the first line of the second paragraph: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Wow.
But how does one define happiness? It is increasingly obvious it’s not defined by money. Why? The current securities market shows a drastic drop in wealth. In fact, a study by an Asian Development Bank reports global financial assets (stocks, bonds, currencies) fell by more than $50 trillion in 2008. Yes, this is the letter “t.” If not wealth, why not work? Employment is a highly valuable asset, but it no longer appears to be absolute. Moreover, people complain about the job, usually acquired for the greenback, not passion. Even those who possess happiness now are faced with financial turmoil. Pain results, a feeling of inadequacy, incompetence, degenerative self-worth. I walk alone.
In this low moment I recognize a new truth surfacing. What’s more, I notice the way Billie Joe Armstrong effectively affirms this thought, too. In “Boulevard,” one line always jars my attention: “Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me.” Emotions are capable of quick change, but calmness in chaos can hold the spirit secure. Why is it so difficult to hold on to this calmness though? Events in life can quickly breed pain, rage, despair. Just today I listened to a precious lady describe to a news anchor the life savings she lost through Bernie Madoff’s despicable Ponzi scheme: $1.3 million dollars … simply gone. Madoff pleaded guilty to all counts, now headed to prison for 150 years.
Is justice truly served? He will perish in a cell and no longer extort honorable citizens, but how will the affected be fully restored, made whole? The lady on the program concluded her story by affirming her “fighter” instinct, a willingness to press forward despite this tremendous setback. Is she calm internally? I hope so, but if not, in good time. Might this calmness I reference be hope, the tenacious, gallant ability to push through current circumstances and consider what is over the horizon, ridge, mountain? Enter “Dream On” (1973) by Aerosmith. A track contained in the band’s first album, this anthem invites listeners to ponder the larger moments life holds.
“Dream On” also invites listeners to join together in meditation on life, a communal “song” on emotion. Ponder the chorus. In fact, exhale the words now: “Sing with me, sing for the years, sing for the laughter, sing for the tears.” I’m reminded of Lamentations, a book in the Scriptures I might deem a true dirge, numerous thoughts on sadness. It’s difficult to discover hope in the words composed by Jeremiah. But the wonder in the Scriptures is the hope pulsing through it, this statement in Lamentations on God a fitting example: “His mercy never fails. It is new every morning.”
It is 9:30 p.m. right now, and this day is trying. I have enjoyed the sunshine today, the breeze, the fact that rain is on the way and will nourish the soil for the next three. I shared a conversation with my mother tonight over dinner. I like the way she can be blunt and peer into my soul, this the pointed question: “Are you happy right now?” I tilted my head toward my knee, briefly considering my mind before replying: “No. I’m not.” The swindled lady interviewed on CNN is not happy, nor the residents of the burgeoning tent communities. Will this unhappiness change? Yes, without question. But the underlying security one holds to is the tipping point toward hope or unending despair, i.e. hopelessness.
Tomorrow is a new day though, a fresh start, ripe with possibility. And I continue to recognize the way attitude forges character. Consider a thought by Samuel Johnson: “He who has so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts.” I’m not overly intrigued with motivational teaching, but I do believe in the principle of intention. Intention is a willing effort, decisions made in light of priorities. When the current economy is under consideration, action is both necessary and prudent.
Will the stimulus be effectively implemented? Unlikely, but as Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, notes, inaction will undoubtedly create higher financial, social and personal costs. This week the Dow Jones posted four consecutive days of gains, good news for an ailing market. Fear within people also inhibits the possibility of rebound, so one must turn his or her attention to higher leadership; President Obama is now carrying this mantle, and he is charged with directing the United States for the next four years. His sporadic remarks on this nation are grounded in a tough reality, but tinged with optimism, hope, a dream that monetary restoration is slowly surfacing.
The economy spiraled into a grisly nightmare in 2008, so now is the time to dream. Steven Tyler tells all to “dream until your dream comes true.” I believe God does as well. Like Oscar Wilde, turn the eyes upward. I know it’s difficult to make out the stars sometimes. Smog and particulates conceal celestial glory, but the right evening provides unparalleled clarity. Take a breath. Make a wish. Dream. Hope without ceasing.