E. B. White and Hope

E. B. White is quite a wonderful author. As I troll the web I keep discovering bit and pieces of the literary gems he has so graciously strewn across our world. One of my most favoritest E. B White quotes shares this observation:  “If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

Then today I was reading the BrainPickings newsletter and came across this letter that White wrote to a man in response to the letter the man had sent to him expressing the gentleman’s distress at the human condition. White’s letter can be found in Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience (public library) – a wonderful collection of letters based on Shaun Usher’s labor-of-love website.

 White’s letter, penned on March 30, 1973, when he was 74, endures as a spectacular celebration of the human spirit:

Dear Mr. Nadeau:

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society – things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.


E. B. White

 And reading this reminded me hope easy it can be to fall into frustration at the sometimes excruciatingly slow progress in building a world of fairness, respect and compassion, of how many valleys there are along with the peaks of success. What a wonderful testament E. B. White gives us to celebrate human hope and resilience.

 So today, this day, let us all go out into our world and be a source of hope, a source of compassion for at least a few minutes of our day. And if you can’t quite manage that, then at least smile broadly to someone you don’t know. You will either bless their day with an unexpected gift of joy, or set them to wondering what you are up to!

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