Tag Archives: hope

“Save the government”

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When our third- and fourth-grade grandchildren come over to visit, they like to play in the unfinished room in our basement. Sometimes they set up the card tables and chairs to play “school,” or “store,” or “city government.” I was a bit shocked and saddened a couple of days ago to find two signs they had posted on the wall: “Save the government,” and “Make it so terror does not become the government.”

I wondered: Are we adults responsible for this? Have we somehow instilled in them such anxiety about what is going on in the world that they fear for their freedom? Is this the legacy national leaders are leaving to children—doubt and fear?

Children should not have to worry that their way of life—freedom as they know it—is going to disappear.

They hear, and they know. Times have been tumultuous recently, especially in the political arena. Our resolve and our commitment to a democratic republic have been tested, and the tests are ongoing.

Integrity seemed to be an early casualty in the 2016 election campaign. Honesty and civility suffered severe setbacks. Freedom of speech and thought are under ongoing attack.

But I still have confidence in the right to think and speak what we believe to be right. I have hope that in the end this freedom will prevail.

Now, I am a natural-born pessimist. I tend to believe Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” I live prepared for people to disappoint me, seeking their own welfare first and foremost, ignoring the common good. (And how often, I have to ask, am I guilty of this?)

Fortunately, my wife–ever the optimist in our home–balances me out.

But as I have gotten older, I have become more optimistic. I have come to realize more and more that living in expectation of trouble is no way to build a worthwhile life. If you want happiness, look for it, seek it out, and if necessary, make it yourself. If you don’t want to be weighed down by gloom at the end of the day, look for happiness and joy along the way. They are there when you pay attention. Did you find them in the slant of early light through the trees this morning? In the mother at the store with a young child, or children, curiously and delightedly getting to know the world around them? In a quiet opportunity to read and ponder great ideas?

More and more I have tried to implement in my life the counsel of a man I accepted and honored as a prophet of God. Gordon B. Hinckley taught: “There is a terrible epidemic of pessimism in the land. . . . I come . . . with a plea that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight.” He shared this counsel from his wise father: “Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve.”

We can all learn from our mistakes, of course, and we all have need to repent of our sins and errors. But when we look at those mistakes, do we also consider the good that may have come from our more selfless actions?

Struggle in this life begins when we are very young, and it will continue as long as we live on earth. After more than 70 years of facing it, the only useful approach I see to dealing with this struggle is simply to keep going on. Move forward. When you keep moving forward, you eventually reach your goals.

Again, I have come to rely on the counsel of Gordon B. Hinckley: “Keep trying. . . . Be believing. Be happy. Don’t get discouraged. Things will work out.”

That is a lesson I hope to help my grandchildren learn.

 

 

What’s Right with America?

Yakov Smirnoff knows what it is to be a true American patriot.

The Russian comedian, who immigrated to the United States in 1977, has a deep love for his adopted country. He is known for his signature tag line: “What a country!” But through the years he has put his heart and his money where his mouth is.

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Yakov Smirnoff with fans.

Yakov is a talented artist. Many of his paintings pay homage to the U.S.A. Not many people know that in the wake of the tragedy of September 11, 2001, Yakov spent a very large amount of his own time and money to produce and put into place a huge artistic memorial overlooking the site of the Twin Towers that had gone down. He did it anonymously because his name is associated with laughter, but he wanted to express solemnity and reverence at the tragedy, as well as his own hope and love for America.

You might think I’m giving a plug to his one-man show that we saw recently in Branson, Missouri. You’d be right. As they say in online product reviews, “Yes, I would recommend this to a friend.” Along with a generous dose of entertainment, his show offers some good advice about building strong relationships with the ones you love. (Would you believe laughter is a key?) Optimism about America comes through strongly.

A caveat here: there was sexual innuendo in some of his jokes that I felt was unnecessary. I attributed this to the fact that our backgrounds are very different and that many in the entertainment industry seem to expect this of comedians. After my initial reaction (“Is blue ‘humor’ really necessary for such a talented man?”), I tried to look deeper into the ideas he was expressing and their motivations.

He reminded me of some of the reasons I am grateful for the country where I was born and where I live.

Beautiful spacious skies over Yellowstone National Park.

Beautiful spacious skies over Yellowstone National Park.

Over the past few months, Mrs. S. and I have had some great opportunities to appreciate the words: “O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain . . . .” We’ve seen them in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri. During my lifetime, I have been blessed with the opportunity to visit six continents. But never have I seen anything to match the beauties of my home country.

Then there is freedom to choose our leaders. In our own home state and in the Midwest this fall, we saw hotly contested, sometimes vicious election campaigns with charges of indifference to voters, malfeasance, even criminality in office. The acrimony was painful. But in this country we have viable choices of candidates who may share our personal philosophies. I am reminded that there are literally billions of people on the earth who enjoy no such choices. I have lived in countries where the outcome of elections is always a foregone conclusion—or where there are no elections at all.

We live comparatively secure lives here. Mrs. S. and I spent 18 of the last 24 months living in Central America. For a hobbyist photographer like me, there were opportunities to see beautiful, fascinating things I loved to photograph. And yet I often dared not carry sophisticated camera equipment that would have allowed me to make photographs or video of the quality I desired. Carrying it in some areas could have put our lives or safety in jeopardy. We drove a car with tinted windows that prevented would-be robbers or kidnappers from seeing who was in the vehicle, or how we might be dressed. It was a blessing to come home to our country and be able to move about freely without worrying about malevolent, greedy eyes around us.

There are many people in the world who hate our country, who would like to destroy it. Why? Because in this country we have choices. We do not have to live the way they dictate. Worse, people who live under their rule are able to see or sense the differences, and they long to enjoy the freedoms Americans have. That makes this country a threat to the power of terrorists and other would-be dictators. The United States of America is seen as the hope of something better. That in itself is a blessing to the world.

It is something that an art professor-turned-comedian saw decades ago living with his parents in an overcrowded apartment in the Soviet Union. He saw hope in a new home across the ocean. Now he teaches in his theater show that we all see that which we seek. If we look for hope and optimism, we will find it. And it is much easier to find in this country than almost anywhere else in the world.

So my hat’s off to you, Mr. Smirnoff. You’re right about this place: “What a country!”