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Are These the Worst of Times?

Yes, we have some inflation. Yes, there are strong divisions in our society. Yes, some say they might resort to violence to “fix” our country. Yes, some friends are facing serious health issues. Yes, good teachers are often leaving that work because students show them no respect. In our personal life, I’m wondering if our savings are enough to cover our needs in case we live too long.

You pick the trouble that most vexes you, your personal reason for despair. When sad and bad things happen in our personal lives or in the wider world, we can slip into thinking the times are really bad now. We can think so if we don’t know what has happened before.

Some of us hated history in school. It’s all that old stuff. But I’ve come to love history because it’s full of dramatic stories about people like ourselves who faced challenges and either met them well, or failed and ended up defeated or dead. Bear with me for a few examples.

Our civil war included hero-like figures on both sides. Robert E. Lee was a highly honored West Point graduate, second to highest in his class. He took on leadership of the Confederate Army because his home state was part of it, and he felt called to serve. But as a result, he lost all his personal property, lost the war, and lost his place of honor in history. On the other hand, President Abraham Lincoln had the vision and commitment to preserve the Constitution and led our country through the war. But he died from an assassin’s bullet, a hero.

My parents lived through World War II. I study it because it was so colossal. Over 400,000 Americans died in military action. Over fifty million others around the world lost their lives. The cost in property lost and resources expended exceeds our imagination. Finally, every war’s price echoes for decades in caring for the injured and the damaged souls still evidenced by the high rate of veteran suicides.

In my college days the United States got involved in Vietnam. The French colonial rule in Vietnam collapsed, and several U.S. presidents thought we needed to stem the tide of communism there. That effort grew as we sent more and more U.S. armed forces and billions of dollars in aid to South Vietnam. By its end, 50,000 Americans died in that war. Perhaps you have a relative whose name is on that long wall in Washington. The result? Perhaps nothing. We left Vietnam to its fate and today that communist-governed country is a trading partner with the United States. I have clothing made there. And today’s communist Vietnam is not at all friendly with China.

On the home front, only one hundred years ago, most of the farms of the Midwest were still without electricity. Outdoor toilets were standard. Running water came out of hand pumps. During my childhood, people still died of polio, or permanently lost an arm or leg to paralysis. President Franklin D. Roosevelt could only stand up if he wore steel braces on his legs, and he generally got around in a wheelchair due to polio. Today’s vaccine has ended that disease.

Living in 2024, yes, we have some serious challenges to face. We need to heal our nation once again, learn how to make friends of those with whom we disagree. We need to face changes in our climate and perhaps pay a high price later if we don’t pay the lower price sooner by changing our ways. We need to stand for values that are better than those displayed in media. We need more good teachers. The list could go on. At the very least, we need to show concern for and take care of our neighbors who are in trouble.

The times could be worse. Let’s be the kind of people who do our best in this time. It’s the only time we have. It’s our turn.

So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Ephesians 5:15–16 (NLT)

© 2024 Stanley Hagemeyer

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1 Comment

Love the history - and the last 2 paragraphs - spot on!

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