I’m on vacation right now in Maine enjoying the last days of summer with my family. I’m sitting on the deck of my parents’ summer house in Maine looking out at the lake as the sun is newly rising. It is completely quiet and it’s one of those moments when all feels right with the world.
It’s so easy particularly when not on vacation to find a million things wrong with the world, whether it’s ISIS and random terrorist attacks, continued racial and religious strife, or a political year that is frustrating, uninspiring and a bit scary. People seem more rushed and rude and entitled than they used to. It’s easy to feel that things and people were better before. That’s why it’s so helpful to read some history to remind oneself of even more terrifying times. Right now I’m reading about JFK’s presidency, and even though it all took place before I was born, it is helpful to know that the crises then were far bigger. By 1963, Americans had fought or were fighting in three major wars in less than twenty years, from World War II to the Korean War to the Vietnam War. The Cold War with Russia was a huge national threat and the Cuban Missile Crisis had put America on the verge of nuclear war. The Civil Rights Movement was just beginning, and blacks were regularly being lynched for daring to be treated equally to whites. Vietnamese children were being killed by bombs in their villages and Buddhist monks were setting themselves on fire. It was a very scary time.
Today we have Islamic extremists trying to spread terror throughout the world and we have many people so disillusioned with our country that they are willing to vote for an erratic business mogul with no understanding of foreign policy, just to make a point. And there are tens of thousands of children being killed in Syria every year. But the Berlin wall was taken down in my lifetime, we have a black president, and we may very well have our first woman president by the end of this year. That’s good news.
Right now, as I sit and listen to the sound of early morning birds and watch the sun dancing on the lake, I remind myself how lucky Americans are to be free and to be able to determine the course of their lives. There is certainly no better time or place to be a woman than in America in 2016, compared to many women around the globe who are sadly still oppressed, without access to education or other basic freedoms.
But today on this lovely morning in late August, I am grateful for the brave souls who came before us and paved a better world: for Abraham Lincoln, who changed the course of history, standing up for a united group of states that would no longer tolerate slavery; for the early suffragettes who insisted that women have the right to vote; for all the brave soldiers who fought in all the wars of the 20th century; for JFK who stood up to the Russians and forced them to turn around their ships in Cuba, averting a nuclear crisis; and to Obama, who helped all black children realize that something great was possible for them if they worked hard and dreamed big.
In finding our world stage, even though it’s important for us to ask what isn’t working in order to create something better, it’s also important to notice all the things that do work in our lives and in our world, so we don’t get lost in unnecessary despair. Reading history helps to give perspective about the world, and being in nature reminds us of life’s basic perfection. When you start to feel frustrated or sad, remember that the world is unfolding as it should and that all is well.
Here is an excerpt of my favorite quote, called Desiderata, which means “desired things” in Latin, and was written by Max Ehrmann in 1927:
“Go placidly among the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence…be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should…”
This is a picture I took of a bamboo forest in Kyoto, Japan.