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Keeping Perspective When Things Go Wrong

Sitting around the dinner table with friends talk turned to the war and our frustrations with so much that is wrong with our world. Someone said they were tired of politicians who kept up the shell games of half-truths. Another volunteered that they were tired of worrying about economy and oil and terrorism and the bleak future. Someone said they were just tired of saying goodbye to some special people who had made their own journey just a little easier. The more we talked, the more hopeless we became.

So someone asked: How do we keep our perspective when so much around us seems so wrong?

My mind wandered back to a recent trip my wife and I had made to England. One of the highlights of that trip was visiting the Imperial War Museum in London that tells the story of World War One and Two. Through audio and video and photographs and stories we waded through the hard times that England faced especially during those dark days of the Second World War.

Nazi bombs fell on England for more than 50 days. One August night the Germans dropped 300 tons of bombs and a multitude of Britishers were killed. Thousands of children were herded from their homes and sent into little villages to live safely with strangers until the war ended. Some of them lived away from home for six years. There were over 2 million bomb shelters in England, and when the sirens would sound people would leave their homes and run toward those damp underground shelters.

We left the museum shaken by the horror of war and all the pain it has caused. Hoping to lift our mood we wandered into a pub to eat. Rod Stewart sang in the background, “Have I told you lately that I love you?” The servers were warm and welcoming. All around us people were having a good time. Leaving the restaurant I saw couples holding hands, an old man walking his dog–a boy with a wild orange-red Mohawk. The buses ran and people rushed to work and home and school and play. This was a far cry from all the destruction and death that England had suffered.

What kept them going? Why did they not simply shut down or fold or acquiesce when trouble came night after night for five long years? After the war there were enormous adjustments and rebuilding a broken land was far from easy. For a time the divorce rate soared. Children back home after years away faced serious adjustments. Winston Churchill was asked once what was the secret of his people’s survival. The prime minister responded by saying what kept them going were six words. “Never, never, never give up.”

Maybe we can learn something from our British neighbors in our own hard time. Maybe the key to our success is not measured by who wins the election, how much the Dow goes up and down, or what color the fear alert is today: Orange, red–whatever.

Alabama may beat Auburn or the reverse may be true. Regardless, the sky will not fall and we will hopefully say: Just wait till next year about many things. Maybe our success rests in our hearts–not some coach or president or headline.

We sit down today with a table laden with many good things. But for some families there will be an empty chair never to be filled again. If we are lucky, some of the people we love and love us will surround us. And if not, some of us may remember other days and other faces and the sheer wonder of life itself.

Let us all remember those other folk in our own history that faced a difficult time. Remember those early pilgrims and Indians that gathered after that long hard year in New England. They gave thanks to God for being able to go on.

Let us bow our heads and say a proper thanks for every good gift. And when the dinner is over, let us fold our napkins leave the table determined, like Churchill once said in another hard time. Never, never, never, never, give up.

Roger Lovette is a retired Baptist minister who wrote this column for the Birmingham News.