This Lenten season has been frustrating for me. My arthritis has caused me to write with only one hand (really one finger.) and not devote the time to writing the Pew like I planned. However no excuses. My mind has been active and more than once I wished I could transcribe my thoughts and concerns.
Over two thousand years ago, people were calling for a “Messiah.” Their prayers were answered but not in the person they expected. This last month with war, pandemic, inflation, polarization, and greed at the forefront, I have wondered what are our answers. Over this last week, I hope you will join me in thinking about today’s problems and solutions. I don’t profess to have the right answers but I certainly have a few questions.
To begin, I forward the words of Madeline Albright who I had the pleasure and honor of knowing for a short time, long ago.
Several months before her death, she wrote some reflections on the importance of making the most of life. Her thoughts are excerpted here from the new forward of the paperback edition of her most recent book Hell and other Destinations: A 21st Century Memoir.
My home city, Washington, is not yet a state and is therefore without U.S. senators it can call its own. We do, however, have some very old cemeteries. Racked by weather and time, their headstones typically resemble the teeth of an out-punched boxer: some still upright, some crooked or broken, some clumped together, and others separated by irregular gaps. Study closely enough the barely legible birth and death dates inscribed on their well-worn surfaces, and it becomes hard to hold back tears. A large portion of the interred are children.
As this evidence attests, through much of the past, life has been a gamble that many lost without ever being given a fair chance to succeed. For centuries, families routinely bore half a dozen offspring or more and, shortly after, on average, buried several of them. In some countries, this is still the case. Billions who began life never reached the age at which it was possible to appreciate any but the most basic appetites of existence, let alone explore the liberties, big and small, that many of us now take for granted. Add in the multitudes of young men and women whose tenure on Earth ended abruptly due to war, genocide, mishap, or plague, and it is shaming to see how frivolously we who still draw breath use many of the hours God gives us.
This is something I have thought about more and more in recent years, and it is why I have always preferred doers to idlers, whiners, and excuse-makers. As I have written, introspection is hardly my strong point, but as the author now of three memoirs, I have had numerous chances to reflect on what I have seen, felt, thought, and done.
Assessing myself, I have tried to be honest without overdoing it. People intent on finding fault with me can do their own research. I have, however, admitted to an array of shortcomings including pride, ambition, fits of hot temper, occasional bouts of insecurity, and an affinity for sweets.
In foreign policy, my area of expertise, I have been compelled at regular intervals to modify my views in light of new information without abandoning certain basic principles. “Genius” is often defined as the ability to be right the first time; unable to meet that standard consistently, I still strive to be right eventually. My parents taught me what the best teachers tell us all: that it is no sin to make a mistake, but unpardonable not to try to make the most of our talents. To me, resilience of spirit (far more than brilliance of intellect) is the essential ingredient of a full life.
No matter how smart we are, we can allow sorrows and grievances to overwhelm us, or we can respond positively to setbacks — be they caused by our own misjudgments or by forces beyond our control. This choice has rarely been starker than in the past two years. As individuals, we have had to adapt to the shock of unwelcome and unexpected circumstances. Collectively, we have had to bounce back not only from the pandemic but also from doubts about our willingness to pursue social justice, our power to make self-government succeed and our capacity to prevent advanced technology from causing more harm than good. Worldwide, we have undergone a period of trial that has changed us in ways not yet fully revealed.
Clearly, our future leaders will have to be gutsy and resourceful, and so, each in our own way, will we. To those who despair of that possibility, I have a measure of sympathy but little patience. There is no shortage of worthwhile work to be done and, as those broken headstones remind us, no surplus of seasons in which to achieve our goals.
So let us buckle our boots, grab a cane if we need one, and march.