The Power of the People

Never mind the traditional excesses of Thanksgiving, the horrors of Black Friday or the panic of the pre-Christmas rush. For afficionados of the sport of people-watching, the up-coming holiday season is the best season of the year. With crowds of impatient adults and captive children navigating the stormy seas of covetousness and retail madness from now until New Year’s Day, amusement should be easy to find.

In fact, I’ve already been amused. During a swing through our local Target store, I found myself waiting in the checkout line behind a child and his mother. The boy appeared to be about three, and he was fussy.  Hanging on to his mother’s skirt with both hands, he circled around and around until he found a comfortable spot, sandwiched between his mother and the cart. 

Peeking out from the folds of her skirt, he looked past us to the vibrant displays of candy and merchandise across the aisle. Using one hand to point to something, he tugged on her skirt with the other to gain attention.  Busy sorting through her purse, his mother ignored him while the rest of us started paying attention.

Eventually pulling at her skirt with both hands, the boy grew more insistent, and “fussy” became full-blown “cantankerous”. Finally pushed over the edge by parental insensitivity and no longer caring about the little tchotchke that had captured his attention, he began to wail with rage and frustration.  He was tired. He wanted to go home. He especially didn’t want to be waiting in line while his mother sorted through coupons and double-checked lists. As his outraged protest grew louder and more high-pitched, his obviously embarassed mother tried her best to shush him.

“Do you want to ride in the cart?” she asked.   No, he didn’t want to ride in the cart.  “Do you want to look at your book?”   No. He didn’t care about the book. Gritting her teeth just slightly, his mother went down the list.  “Do you want me to spank you?”  “No”.  “Do you want to go to your room when we get home?”  “No.”

In desperation, his mother looked at her grocery cart and asked, “Do you want a cookie?”  His response was strong and immediate. “No!”  Obviously startled by the refusal, his mother asked again, “Are you sure you don’t want a cookie?”  “NO! No cookie!”  We could see the amusement beginning to dawn on the woman’s face as she looked down at her boy. “Do you know what I just asked you?”   “NO!”  he said, reburying his face into her skirt.

Funny as the little drama was for those of us watching, uncomfortable and embarassing as it obviously was for his mother, what made it most astonishing was the intensity of the child’s no.  Caught up in the sheer, perverse pleasure of negativity, his no had become more important to him than a cookie.

Unfortunately, the instinctive response of a child can become the habit of an adult.  It doesn’t take much looking to find the nay-sayers among us.  Often petulant, frequently obnoxious, at times pessimistic or filled with cynicism, their entire raison dêtre appears to be shouting No! into the face of life.  Offered the hand of friendship, the challenge of collegiality, the possibility of intimacy or a path to greater understanding, they respond by clinging ever more tightly to their rejection of every overture, every gesture of good will.

Tiresome and exhausting in personal relationships, such negativity becomes corrosive and even toxic on a social level.  When whole groups begin saying no to one another, more than feelings get hurt. Society becomes segmented. Fear begins to erode acceptance. Selfishness appears, together with its unhappy twin, power-hunger. 

From urban alleyways to the halls of Congress, from boardrooms to lecture halls, we increasingly are confronted by the spectacle of enraged, petulant children shouting No! Unfortunately, these “children” also possess adult strength and power.  Their no can kill, or reshape lives without regard for consequence. In the face of such incessant negativity, people begin to withdraw from one another, engendering isolation and despair.

Understanding full well the power of negativity to erode, consume and destroy, I still prefer the folly of hope – a willingness to believe, despite substantial evidence to the contrary, that humanity is as capable of good as of evil, that joy remains a lively possibility and that, no matter how shattered, trust can be rebuilt. Paraphrasing Faulkner’s famous words, I choose  to believe humanity will be able not only to endure the shouted No! of history but also to prevail by the Yes! of courageous human hearts.

Is such optimism naive?  Has faith in humanity become outdated?  Have the cruelty, ridicule and small-mindedness of the schoolyard made dignity, perseverance and grace irrelevant?  Faced with such questions, I can do no more than affirm human decency, acknowledge the possibility of grace and align myself once again with a poet of my roots.  Let the naysayers of the world rant on. Carl Sandburg knows the people, and he knows the peoples’ Yes.

The people yes
The people will live on.
The learning and blundering people will live on.
They will be tricked and sold and again sold
And go back to the nourishing earth for rootholds,
The people so peculiar in renewal and comeback,
You can’t laugh off their capacity to take it…
The people so often sleepy, weary, enigmatic,
is a vast huddle with many units saying:
“I earn my living.
I make enough to get by
and it takes all my time.
If I had more time
I could do more for myself
and maybe for others.
I could read and study
and talk things over
and find out about things.
It takes time.
I wish I had the time.”…
Between the finite limitations of the five senses
and the endless yearnings of man for the beyond
the people hold to the humdrum bidding of work and food
while reaching out when it comes their way,
for lights beyond the prison of the five senses,
for keepsakes lasting beyond any hunger or death.
This reaching is alive.
The panderers and liars have violated and smutted it.
Yet this reaching is alive yet
for lights and keepsakes.
The people know the salt of the sea
and the strength of the winds
lashing the corners of the earth.
The people take the earth
as a tomb of rest and a cradle of hope.
Who else speaks for the Family of Man?
They are in tune and step
with constellations of universal law.
The people is a polychrome,
a spectrum and a prism
held in a moving monolith,
a console organ of changing themes,
a clavilux of color poems
wherein the sea offers fog
and the fog moves off in rain
and the labrador sunset shortens
to a nocturne of clear stars
serene over the shot spray
of northern lights.
The steel mill sky is alive.
The fire breaks white and zigzag
shot on a gun-metal gloaming.
Man is a long time coming.
Man will yet win.
Brother may yet line up with brother:
This old anvil laughs at many broken hammers.
There are men who can’t be bought.
The fireborn are at home in fire.
The stars make no noise,
You can’t hinder the wind from blowing.
Time is a great teacher.
Who can live without hope?
In the darkness with a great bundle of grief
the people march.
In the night, and overhead a shovel of stars for keeps, the people
“Where to? what next?”
Comments are welcome.  To leave a comment or respond, click below. Thanks!

95 thoughts on “The Power of the People

  1. Hello Linda:

    As I read your beautiful blog post about Hope, a smile emerged on my face. Today I wrote tomorrow’s post, and guess what? It was about “Hope” penned by Emily Dickinson, the reclusive poetess. This is what she wrote about Hope:

    “HOPE is the thing with feathers
    That perches in the soul,
    And sings the tune without the words,
    And never stops at all,

    And sweetest in the gale is heard;
    And sore must be the storm
    That could abash the little bird
    That kept so many warm.

    I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
    And on the strangest sea;
    Yet, never, in extremity,
    It asked a crumb of me.”

    Now we have at least four who are saying “Yes” instead of saying “No”. You will see, that down the road, there are many “Yeses” waiting for the call.

    Enjoy what’s rest of this Sun-day; the day of the sun, even though it’s raining outside.



    1. Omar,

      I like that poem, and think of it now and then when my friendly mockingbird decides 4 a.m. is the perfect time to begin singing his heart out – his “tune without words” usually stops one minute after there’s no more chance for me to go back to sleep!

      I’ve always thought Dickinson did a good job of capturing one aspect of hope – it can appear even “in the chillest land and on the strangest sea”. Optimism can be squashed pretty easily, but hope is stronger, more resilient, particularly if it’s well-placed, and it can sustain us with its song through the worst life has to offer.

      It was a lovely, sunny day here, and quite enjoyable despite our need for rain. Perhaps you were lucky enough to have the Twisters stop by to bring you a little sunshine!


  2. It is a shame, this negativity, for it does indeed exist and thrive within this nation. In the heart of men is good which shows itself in times of calamity. In other times the goodness is hidden to protect itself from all the untruths from which it is constantly assaulted.

    Then again when a travesty is beginning to take place, those around could help defuse it before it ignites instead of waiting to see the explosion. What is lacking is truth for without it, we are lost and we flounder in the sea of negativity. We know truth and love works and would change everything; however, we accept lies and deceit as the way it is. We have made a very bad decision.

    1. Preston,

      There’s no question that calamity can reveal the good lodged in peoples’ hearts. No one wishes for a tropical storm or hurricane, but some of my most cherished memories are of the goodness of people after Allison, Katrina, Rita and Ike. Yes, there were problems. Yes, there was some violence. Yes, a few people tried to cheat others, steal from them or otherwise cause trouble – but those were clear exceptions, and everyone knew it.

      I do think in the course of day-to-day life people can be tempted to deny their own good impulses. Often, fear gets in the way. They don’t want to be ridiculed for thinking the best of people, or find their trust has been misplaced. And heaven knows there’s enough experience of lies and deceit for any of us to just throw up our hands and say, “Oh, what’s the use?”

      I suppose here, too, the old adage about one day at a time is a good one. We can’t solve all the world’s problems, but we can deal honestly and lovingly with what shows up on our front step.


  3. I can appreciate how the “always no” can erode communications. I like the description “finite limitations of the five senses” from the poem you quoted.

    While you witnessed the habitual “no” of that tired little boy, I heard a little one telling his mother he needed something. “What do you need?” she asked. “I don’t know,” came the plaintive reply. Then, “Can I have it, Mom?” Somewhat amused, “But you don’t know what you want.” “But can I have it, please?”

    1. nikki,

      Your mother-son dialogue is lovely, and of course touches on the deeper truth of what was happening in that line. It would be wonderful if we always could be so open, so sensitive to one another’s needs – but for that mother and son, it wasn’t happening, at least not on that day, in that line. The good news is that despite it all she didn’t yell at him or smack him, and the people around her, from the checker to the other shoppers, were sympathetic. It doesn’t always work out that way.

      But you know what tickles me most? Your little dialogue applies so well even to grown-ups. How many times do we get cranky ourselves, wanting something we can’t quite identify and wishing someone would give it to us? We may not whine quite so obviously, but we can be pretty creative with our tantrums! ;)


      1. Yes, as I eavesdropped, I thought of the adult version in our own internal dialogues. Sometimes it occurs in front of an open refrigerator door.

        I, too, am glad no one got smacked in the incident you described. Sometimes, we all just need to go home and take a nap.

  4. Such wisdom grown out of a small boy’s tantrum!

    Tired little children who scream in rage when thwarted grow up to be thoughtful individuals, if they are lucky. I must agree with you and Sandburg, Faulkner too, that the individual is mostly given to kindness. It is often the mass which turns into a raving beast of negativity.

    Tolerance and understanding, empathy and kindness make the world go round, in spite of frequent evidence to the contrary, when we see people become polarised.

    There’s always hope, for as long as there is life. That little boy is hope for the future and he too will learn to say yes, and not only to a cookie.

    1. friko,

      Your comment put me in mind of a book review I read recently. Isaac’s Army , by Matthew Brzezinski, tells the tale of the Warsaw Ghetto. The review is concise and well-written, and the book itself highlights the importance of the individual against the power of the mass. In a way both terrible and poignant, the story affirms that, as long as there is life, there is hope.

      Like the little boy in the store, all of us have to face limits in life – limited attention, limited opportunity, physical limitations, limited ability to enforce our will on the world. But in the process, we do begin to learn other lessons. If we’re taught well, we develop some of that tolerance, understanding and kindness that’s so important. As Sandburg says, “time is a great teacher”.


  5. I thoroughly enjoyed this thoughtful essay.

    No matter where my life has taken me, no matter the evil I have encountered, hope has always been the constant in my life. And it always will be.

    The following quote pretty much expresses my sentiments about hope:

    When the world says, “Give up,”
    Hope whispers, “Try it one more time.”
    ~Author Unknown

    1. Maria,

      Like you, I’ve had a glimpse of evil, and a glimpse is all that’s needed to make clear the power of hope as a weapon. Hope isn’t just wishing and wanting – hoping for some “thing”. It’s a basic attitude toward life.

      As for living without hope – well, you know how Dante described the inscription on the Gates of Hell: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here…” As long as we have hope, hell doesn’t have a chance. ;)


  6. Hi Linda, thanks for this post! Just the other day I was chatting with a colleague about the seductive power of cynicism. I like your appeal to hope. I think that is so very important. In our particular chat, we spoke about the gift of approaching the world with wonder. The amazement that attends paying attention to the world is a significant tonic for that poison, in my opinion.

    1. Allen,

      When I think about it, I’m often tempted to conclude that cynicism, gossip, ridicule, name-calling and rampant negativity have the same root – the desire to prove ourselves right by proving someone else wrong or inferior. And there’s no question we all can be seduced by the various negativities running loose in the world.

      As an aside, I sometimes listen to Dave Ramsey, the get-out-of-debt guru, while I’m working. One of the rules in his organization is “no gossiping”. I’m not sure of the exact procedure that’s followed, but anyone who persists in gossip on the job is soon out of a job. Ramsey says the reason is precisely the poisonous effect gossip has in the workplace.

      I think a sense of wonder is a perfect antidote. For one thing, to stand in awe of the world presupposes that we stop thinking about ourselves for at least a minute – a challenge, for sure!


    1. Teresa Evangeline,

      The Sandburg verse is part of a longer poem. I think you’d enjoy it, though this portion always has been my favorite.

      A tidbit – that line in the poem about The Family of Man? Sandburg was Edward Steichen’s brother-in-law, and he wrote the introduction to the book compiled from Steichen’s Family of Man photographic exhibit. I’m sure you’ve seen the book. It’s a real treasure.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for the nudge with your own.


  7. Caught up in the sheer, perverse pleasure of negativity, his no had become more important to him than a cookie.

    Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Or perhaps he really didn’t want a cookie at that point. Or, more accurately, he wanted something else more than he wanted a cookie and he wasn’t going to settle for the crumbs his mother was offering.

    I also have to say I wouldn’t have found that “little drama” as amusing as you did. Which is why you won’t see me anywhere near the big box stores and the mall between now and 2013.

    1. Al,

      Clearly, he wanted more, or other, than a cookie. As nikkipolani suggested above, even he may not have known what he wanted. My own suspicion is that he simply was done with the store and wanted to be home NOW, without having to put up with lines, car seats, traffic and time.

      Of course, there’s no certainty possible. And if you asked others who were there that day, you’d probably get differing stories – much like asking family members what “really” happened the year Granny threw the turkey leg at Uncle Bud during Thanksgiving dinner.

      As Durrell says in his novel “Balthazar”, “We live…lives based upon selected fictions. Our view of reality is conditioned by our position in space and time – not by our personalities as we like to think. Thus every interpretation of reality is based upon a unique position. Two paces east or west and the whole picture is changed.”

      I will admit I tend more easily toward amusement than anger, especially in a situation like the one with the child. I suspect that’s partly a learned response, developed over fifteen years of caring for my elderly and equally cantankerous mother. But in any event – the good news is that you get to say your own “no” and stay away from those box stores and malls. Believe me, I’ll not be looking for reasons to visit them. ;)


  8. Your post reminded me of an instance when some writers whose blog I follow made an appeal to their readers to help out a friend who was a self employed copy editor with no health insurance, a huge dental abscess, and the only dentist who would even consider taking the case wanted “half up front” which they didn’t have. People ante’d up and more than paid the total dental bill. — (even if you only give $5, multiply that times 100 and that’s $500.) — these are complete strangers! I’m like you. I believe that if given the chance, people can do marvelous things.

    1. WOL,

      Your story’s wonderful, and points out another truth of life: charitable giving often does as much for the giver as for the recipient. There’s something refreshing about setting aside all the questions we’re “supposed” to ask – is this a scam? do they really deserve or need our help? am I going to have someone camped on my doorstep? – and just helping out.

      Of course, there’s a huge difference between institutionalized programs and individual giving, but that’s a different issue for another time. And we need to be wise, after all. Anyone who’s lived in Houston longer than a week has probably encountered the dude on the corner with the cardboard “need $$$ for meds” sign. He and his cohorts often are pulling in $40-60K a year and leaving their “office” every day in cars better than mine. I suppose from a certain perspective it’s just another example of the entreprenurial spirit.

      Still, real needs abound, and we can help. Sometimes, it takes so little – time, money, effort – to change a situation it’s breath-taking.


    1. Steve,

      It’s astonishing how contemporary this seems is. The women working while the jobless man is at home, the youngsters cynically discussing the “gyp artists”, the need to hold on to the meal-ticket job…

      I’m not sure what good it would do, but I rather like the thought of making every legislative body sit through a full reading of “The People, Yes” before they get back down to business. It couldn’t hurt.


  9. Your phrase “petulant children” is the same one I’ve used mentally when I’ve seen video clips on the news showing people rioting in Greece because they insist on retaining lavish benefits that their government hasn’t anywhere close to enough money to keep paying for. Talk about naysayers, and naysayers of reality.

    1. Steve,

      Well, a sense of entitlement starts early, and our entire culture nurtures it. Think of McDonald’s famous advertising slogan – “You deserve a break today”. Over and over, we’re told we “deserve” this or that. Some of it’s silly – luxury chocolates, a weekend spa retreat. Some of it’s more substantial, like a new Mercedes. We don’t “deserve” any of it, of course – it’s just the marketers’ way of telling us our wants actually are needs, and that they will supply them.

      Where we run into trouble is when we’re told we deserve certain things that are both exhorbitant and dependent on an ever-flowing river of money. We never deserved them, of course, but when the river dries up, petulance ensues.

      I would be the happiest person on earth if our elected government could say “no” to spending and “yes” to a legitimate budget, and let the bureaucrats fall where they may. ;)


  10. The second story on 60 Minutes this evening documented research done with children 5 months old or younger. The research seems to provide overwhelming evidence that even at such early ages most children demonstrate an inherent awareness of fairness, of right and wrong behavior by others.

    You can read the transcription of the episode and watch it online at

    1. Color me sceptical on this one. Actually, color me disbelieving. There are too many uncontrolled variables, too many assumptions about the “meaning” of specific behaviors and too little attention seems to have been paid to the researchers’ presuppositions and agenda(e).

      It appears the research is imposing meaning on behaviors, rather than revealing meaning.

      Here’s another question: Who defines what’s “good”? If some babies are born “good”, what happens to the “bad” babies? I don’t like the implications of this one bit, any more than I like genetic screening for various “foetal imperfections”. The phrase “slippery slope” comes to mind.

      It is interesting, and I’m going to poke around in the actual research a bit more – thanks for bringing it over.

  11. Seems sometimes it is just too easy to get caught up in the NO’s of life. I’m as guilty as anyone of allowing negativity to rule the day. The key is to recognize the symptoms and nip them in the bud before they get out of hand ..and certainly before you’re saying no to cookies!

    1. Becca,

      There’s a time for everything, as Ecclesiastes says, and there certainly is a time to say “No”. But a boundary-setting “no” isn’t the same thing as negativity – the kind of infinite grudge against the universe that seems so common today.

      More people than ever seem determined to refuse the good things of life. I don’t quite understand it, but I suppose I don’t have to. I’m just glad that life keeps doling out cookies with a generous hand!


    1. Lisa,

      My gosh – I’d completely forgotten that other check-out line story. After reading your comment, I began to wonder if I pay more attention to such things because I spend such large blocks of time with no one around. There aren’t many people who work in relative isolation, and with no co-worker shenanigans to amuse me, I have a lot of mental space to fill with other things.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the story. And I’m wondering – do you celebrate Thanksgiving in your part of the world? I read a wonderfully written description of a Japanese Thanksgiving celebration that included the old American standard, green bean casserole. I prepared that in Liberia, too. Has it made its way to Ecuador? ;)


      1. i’m glad i tickled that other check-out memory back, as it was a great story that reflects how you interact with strangers in your world! life’s too short to ignore strangers, as they often give us the most-rewarding impromptu experiences!

        larger communities and cities have their circles of extranjeros who celebrate thankgsiving. i attended a pot-luck gathering last year in manta – very nice group of people there, and there was an amazing variety of comforting nostalgic food! i received notice today that they’re all gathering at a popular beach restaurant this year. since i am about five hours by bus from manta, i will stay home sweet home in jama!

        many times i will prepare ‘something'(lasagna or baked chicken or shrimp creole…) and take it to town/my favorite watering hole, and present it to the bar owner. whoever comes in for the night will receive a token ‘boca’— not only on thanksgiving but other times of the year as well.

        in honor of the original gathering, i like to spend thanksgiving with the locals who embrace me into their communities.

        1. Lovely perspective, Lisa – but of course yours is the perspective of someone who’s made an effort to become part of the community and now is welcomed there. If only we could do such a good job of welcoming the strangers among us – even in our own country! No matter how you spend the day – happy thanksgiving!

    1. petspeopleandlife,

      Thanks so much for your kind words. I don’t think I’d say I knock all my posts out of the ballpark, but I’m always willing to take a swing or two. Sometimes people see things differently than I do, but that just makes it more interesting.

      If you take a look on my About page, you’ll see my favorite sport is conversation. That’s what I hope to start here, one way or another.


    1. Snoring Dog Studio,

      You nailed it. It’s important to be willing to say “yes” as well as “no”, but we need to be willing to listen to one another, too. If we don’t listen carefully, we may hear rejection where’s there’s only disagreement.

      One of the hardest things in the world is to disagree without demonizing others, of course. I hope both the volume and the vitriol get turned down a bit in the future. It wouldn’t be a bad first step.


  12. How well you crafted Carl Sandburg’s “The people yes” to a little boy’s tantrum. Kindness, wisdom, humor, hope and faith in fellow men reside here. I love that you observed that interaction between mother and son with understanding without slipping into judgments about each. Happy Thanksgiving to you, Linda.

    1. Georgette,

      There’s room in Carl Sandburg’s world even for a tantrum or two. He understood children well and wrote beautifully for them, although some of his best children’s stories can confound adults.

      Have you read “The Rootabaga Stories”? One attractive online version is here. I’m fond of “Only the Fireborn Understand Blue”. In the lines quoted above there’s another reference: “The fireborn are at home in fire”. It’s remarkable that Sandburg makes use of the same images for both children and adults, framing similar ideas in different ways.

      I love that you mention kindness. I sure that mother showed kindness to her son once things settled down. I hope she could be kind to herself. It makes such a difference. Remember this?


  13. I love the analogy with which you opened the post, and the rest resounded with me as well. It is so easy to say “no,” and in so doing, lose all of the opportunities that might have been gained by saying, “no to this, but to what can we say yes?”

    1. Deborah,

      There’s that distinction again, and it’s so important. Sometimes we have to say “no” – to set boundaries, to preserve space or dignity for ourselves – but reflexive negativity never does anyone any good. Besides, if we’re so busy saying “no” to everything, who knows what wonderful possibilities we might miss in the meantime? Life is filled with gifts, but a gift isn’t really a gift until it’s accepted – that’s how it seems to me, anyway.


    1. Emily,

      Oh, my. Theoretically, of course it could be published. I had a piece published in the Biloxi “SunHerald” on the one-year anniversary of Katrina, for example. Many online newspapers are open to submission.

      What gives me pause is the selection from Sandburg. I had a very brief quotation from T.S.Eliot in an article published in an e-zine, and what we had to go through to get that approved was remarkable – not to mention relatively costly. Some editing might make that less of an issue, and of course Sandburg’s estate might be more amenable to use of brief selections than Eliot’s.

      In any event – I’m so glad you like it. I do, too. Maybe the checkout lines of the world are one of my best “places”. Everyone likes mountains, lakes and trees. Not many people get as much of a kick out of lines as I do. ;)


  14. It really does seem like “no” is the automatic response these days – sometimes even when the person agrees with you they are too ready to say no to even notice the agreement.

    I enjoyed the Sandburg poem – especially the end:

    In the darkness with a great bundle of grief the people march.
    In the night, and overhead a shovel of stars for keeps, the people march:
    “Where to? what next?”

    Isn’t is always true that we march on, regardless?

    1. The Bug,

      I love the ending of that poem, too. It’s just so true to life. I was thinking of all the times those words – “Where to? What next?” – are appropriate. Death. Job loss. Divorce. Medical misfortune. Betrayal by a friend. There just comes a time when you have to push back from the table, put the dishes in the sink, and get started. It never seems to make any difference what the next step is – it just has to be taken.

      We do march on, don’t we? ;)


  15. I’m saddened by the negativity in our country and the obsession that some of us have with it, but we do keep plodding along. I love that about us.

    I’ve been that mother with the little boy. When my son was small, I used to get him a fancy cookie every time I shopped in a certain store that had a section with wonderful goodies. He still has his teeth and everything. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do to make it through the day.

    Your observations are wonderfully entertaining and I enjoy how they lead you to larger topics and how you share them with all of us. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

    1. Bella Rum,

      I used to buy into the business about plodders being dull and unimaginative. I don’t see it that way any more. Plodding can be dull, but it can get you to places you’d never see otherwise.

      I’ve been trying to remember which of my kin used to say “we’ll just keep plodding along”. Maybe everyone said it. It seemed to be in the air. I do remember my grandfather kept a copy of Kipling’s poem “If” tacked to the wall of his little workshop. It was the first thing I remembered when you mentioned plodding.

      Love your story about your son. My own mother was a bit carrot-and-stickish. I don’t remember her ever giving me a whack in public, but she did carry the lid to the balsa-wood cheese box in her purse. All she had to do was slide a corner of that thing into view and I came to attention.

      I suppose I wasn’t paddled any more than twice with that lid, but it made an impression. Honestly, I think the noise was the worst part. And I couldn’t blame her for resorting to it the first time. I was just old enough to run, and I ran around the block with her in hot pursuit. I ended up on top of a dirt pile next door, and threw dirt clods at her when she tried to get me down. By the time she got me down, she was as frustrated as the woman in the store, and we had our little session. As you say, sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. ;)


  16. I think people really want to do good when given the chance – although in today’s world it’s getting harder as so many are willing to take advantage of others (you know that panhandler guy, too, I see.)

    Disasters and storms are terrible, but sometimes I wonder if events happen to provide humans with at chance to realize what is important and to redeem themselves through compassion and actions. An opportunity to do what they might be hesitant to do under normal circumstances: like check on neighbors – or offer help. Not just mouth “have a blessed day” type sugary words, but actually do something positive and kind.
    Thoughtful post (and I’m avoiding stores…eveyone needs to go home and take a nap!)

    1. phil,

      There’s giving, and then there’s giving smart. Once upon a time, I knew a family who owned a gas station/grocery at the edge of a Texas highway. The had a grill – hamburgers and such were available. If anyone drifting through town happened to stop at one of the churches, claim hunger and ask for money, the response always was the same: “I can’t give you money, but I’ll go with you down to the station and buy you a good meal.”

      Sometimes the person would accept, gratefully – and sometimes the person would turn and walk out the door. The system fed a lot of people, and took a huge burden off the shoulders of the person who’d been asked for help. Finding ways to give responsibly is important.

      I think one result of disasters is a surge of “there but for the grace of God” feeling. All of us can feel, from time to time, that our situation is the worst in the world. In a real disaster, that gets swept away. There’s always someone in worse straits just down the road – or next door.

      Not only that, disasters like Ike let us see the results of our actions. It’s life in the real world, writ large. Chainsaws clear roads, power company teams roll in and get fed, neighbors help pull out sheetrock or carpet. I still remember the teenagers from a local Baptist church who showed up at the front door after Allison. We were still ankle deep in mud and thawed meat juices, pulling carpet, and there they were with peanut butter sandwichs, apples and bottled water. I swear to goodness they had wings and halos.


      1. A bunch of CO teens are in Staten helping – their school requests volunteer / community service by students and these kids skipped the last football game to travel east. Hearing them interviewed it sounds like many of them grew up quite a bit and see the world differently now. Winners all around there. ( oh, their team won the game without them, too)
        We were still up north of here during Allison – the water came within inches of coming in, but stopped. Thanks goodness for the massive backyard French drain system we had installed months before – that one storm made all those hours of being down on hands and knees digging out concrete hard gumbo to put it in worth it. I didn’t mind the long time without power – we dodged damage big time – sweating from heat was nothing to what others had to deal with.
        Your story about the hamburgers and those down on their luck sounded familiar. My parents retired back to East TX. The small churches up there had conflicts – people showed up at their door steps constantly asking for money. Dad helped them organize into a benevolent league with a central person in charge. When a request came in, who ever was on duty would meet the person and talk with them, then offer to buy a meal or sometimes groceries. No money. It worked well…the problem previously was that there was a route between the small cities some “needy” people were routinely traveling collecting money from them all….the same people showed up on almost a schedule – once food was offered, many of them got huffy – and left never to return. No one was ever turned away hungry. …except that one time when one loud demanding woman showed up 2 days after Christmas saying she and her children had no food. The problem there was the community just a few days before had given her a complete turkey dinner, presents for the kids, and enough canned goods that should have carried her for quite a while – but she got mad and said that was all gone. She had invited all her extended family for the holidays and they and eaten it all! You have to just shake your head.
        Hope Dixie has forgiven you and all is set for a great Thanksgiving

  17. (do you want a spanking? – that has to be one of the stupidest questions a parent asks:) just wondering if there was something the little fella really did want or if as our adults you mention just wanted to complain. my husband’s message this past sunday was not just about being thankful, but included not complaining. thanksgiving is my favorite holiday with my most favorite memories. however, some years have stood out as bittersweet because of missing components on that favored day. that’s the way it goes…

    1. sherri,

      I remember at least one time my mother asked me “Do you want a spanking?” and I looked her right in the eye and said, “Yes!” I don’t know if she ever asked the question again, but I escaped that time. She couldn’t stop laughing.

      Personally, I think the little boy just was tired and/or wanted his mom’s attention. He was complaining, for sure, but it wasn’t one of the adult varieties that go by names like nit-picking.

      Holidays do change, don’t they? This year, a family-less friend and I were going to share the day, until she fell and broke an arm and a leg. We’re still going to be together on Thanksgiving, but it will be in her rehab center. As you say, that’s the way it goes…


  18. The little boy reminds me of a former colleague of mine when I worked with the Writers Guild. A negotiator for the other side once said to him, “Dan, you can’t stop talking long enough to hear me when I say yes.”

    1. Susan,

      Oh, isn’t that just the truth. You must know Abraham Kaplan’s theory of the “duologue”. The best example is two television sets, turned on and facing one another. I’ve been in more of those “conversations” than I can count!


  19. Wonderful analogy and essay… While it always seems as though the loudest are the most negative — NO NO NO — I can’t help but see more hope. It’s quiet, but spreading. Not just for the political structures, but for the environment and our presence HERE. Perhaps soon the quiet hope and growing gratitude will overtake the more obnoxious and unthinking negativity. :)

    1. FeyGirl,

      Now, that’s a hopeful perspective! There’s no question that the divide between the loudly negative and the quietly hopeful cuts through all the other divides – liberal/conservative, Republican/Democrat, etc. If hope starts beating despair in the great game of life, maybe all these other distinctions won’t matter so much!


    1. Debbie,

      Clearly, they both deserve some sympathy and understanding. Sometimes life just plops us into situations that are hard to cope with – if we’re lucky, we keep learning how to do just a little better!


  20. I thought about this poem the moment the question of No and Yes came up….and I think we need the counter balance. One of my all time favs:

    The City of Yes and the City of No

    I am like a train
    rushing for many years now
    between the city of Yes
    and the city of No.
    My nerves are strained
    like wires
    between the city of No
    and the city of Yes.

    Everything is deadly,
    everyone frightened, in the city of No.
    It’s like a study furnished with dejection.
    In it every object is frowning, withholding something,
    and every portrait looks out suspiciously,
    Every morning its parquet floors are polished with bile,
    its sofas are made of falsehood, its walls of misfortune.
    You’ll get lots of good advice in it — like hell you will!–
    not a bunch of flowers, or even a greeting.
    Typewriters are chattering a carbon copy answer:
    “No–no–no…No–no–no. No–no–no.”
    And when the lights go out altogether,
    the ghosts in it begin their gloomy ballet.
    You’ll get a ticket to leave –- like hell you will!–
    to leave the black town of No.

    But in the town of Yes–
    life’s like the song of a thrush.
    This town’s without walls–
    just like a nest.
    The sky is asking you to take any star
    you like in your hand.
    Lips ask for yours, without any shame,
    softly murmuring:
    “Ah–all that nonsense!”
    And in no one is there even a trace of suspicion,
    and lowing herds are offering their milk,
    and daisies, teasing, are asking to be picked,
    and wherever you want to be, you are instantly there,
    Taking any train, or plane, or ship that you like.
    And water, faintly murmuring, whispers through the years:
    “Yes–yes–yes. Yes–yes–yes. Yes–yes–yes.”
    To tell the truth, the snag is it’s a bit boring at times,
    to be given so much, almost without any effort,
    in that shining multicolored city of Yes.

    Better let me be tossed around–
    To the end of my days,
    between the city of Yes
    and the city of No!
    Let my nerves be strained
    like wires
    between the city of No
    And the city of Yes!

    by Yevgeny Yevtushenko
    From “Bratsky Station and other new poems” 1966
    Translated by Tina Tupikina-Glaessner, Geoffrey Dutton,
    and Igor Mezhakoff-Koriakin

    1. Judy,

      I remember the “Bratsky Station” collection, but not this particular poem. You’re right – it fits perfectly here. As one of those “both/and” people, it appeals to me, too. There’s a time for “yes” and a time for “no”. The trick is figuring out what time it is.

      The thought of the wire stretched between the two cities reminded me of Philippe Petit’s famous words: “When I see three oranges, I have to juggle; when I see two towers, I have to walk!” That’s how we spend most of our life, isn’t it? – out there on that wire between yes and no!


  21. Linda, this is such a powerful post! I, too, far prefer the “folly of hope”; it’s where I’ll always chose to stand. People often remark about my smile, which apparently is frequent, and I just say, “the joy of The Lord is my strength,” because there’s no room for despair and its destructiveness. Bad things happen, to be sure, but we don’t have to let them dominate us.

    Love your posts, love your comments, love the way you said I made you laugh on Lesley’s Capitol post. When I said all the buffoons from Illinois are in jail, don’t you think it was polite of me to omit “and the White House”?

    My love to you and Happy Thanksgiving,

    1. Meredith,

      As you say, we have a choice about our stance toward the events of life. Everyone gets angry, for example – but we don’t have to nurture anger into full-blown rage. I never tire of quoting Luther’s wisdom on the matter: “We can’t keep the birds from flying about our heads, but we can prevent them from nesting in our hair”!

      You know I’m always around, reading and enjoying your posts, although I usually don’t comment on reviews of books I haven’t read. And yes, ma’am – you’re one of the most polite I know. You’re also one of the best at making clever observations that would pass many people right by. As dear Emily would say, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant…”

      Enjoy the upcoming season!


  22. Linda, what a poignant essay about hope. And this is the third writing about hope that I have read just this morning. There are crushed hopes and a lot of no saying walls with people. You know, there are many times I have ended a letter to someone saying: “I hope you have a beautiful day.” Hope is a big, big word and perhaps hope isn’t truly understood. Hope… I really don’t know what to say about hope for now.

    1. Anna,

      I’m not surprised to see such attention being paid to hope just now. I think it’s partly that we’re moving into a time of year when people become more reflective generally. Add to that the distress people are feeling about the recent election, or their personal economic troubles, or the direction of the country, and it’s even more understandable.

      Hope is a big word, and a big reality. In a way, it’s what helps us cope with life when our wishes and wants don’t get met. It’s always seemed to me that people become more hopeful with age. As we put on a few years, it’s easier to put disappointments and failures in perspective – memories of past recoveries help cope with the present in a hopeful way.

      Anyway – I hope your Thanksgiving was a good one. I’m anxious to see more wonderful creations from you in the coming months.


  23. You reminded me of Garrison Keillor’s observation that “Christian faith is hope in the face of evidence to the contrary.” Unfortunately, Christian faith has often been hijacked and made to appear as if it is something else, but Christianity and Judaism – and other systems of thought, I’m sure – are founded on the idea that the human being, every human being, is fundamentally good. The human being is not a wretched being grovelling at the feet of an angry God, begging not to be annihilated because of some perceived slight; on the contrary, the human being is pleased to share in God’s own existence and to say to such a gift, “yes, yes, and again yes!” And if we do trip over our own feet, as we are prone to do, we are optimists, after all, who can get up again and offer a hand to the person who fell nearby.

    Meanwhile, Linda, among the things I am grateful for today are the art and insights of your posts.

    1. Charles,

      Garrison Keillor’s one of my favorites, partly because I was raised in <strike)Lake Woebegon South Iowa and so much of the world he creates is familiar. I’d not run across the quotation about faith, but its truth is equally recognizable. It reminds me of Moltmann’s beautifully simple, “Hope is not blind optimism”. Optimistic, yes. Blind, not so much.

      My reaction to the hijacking of faith that’s increasingly common these days ranges from amusement to distress. There are a lot of straw men running loose, and a good dose of “Christians are this, Christians are that” can tempt me toward the keyboard. So far, so good, as far as resisting temptation. That’s a form of tripping over my own feet I’m going to try to avoid. ;)

      I’m touched you’d mention my posts as a reason for gratitude. Thank you, so much.


  24. Happy Thanksgiving to you Linda, hope I’m not too late… it’s still Thursday. ;) But yes, have a wonderful and meaningful Thanksgiving. Thanks for all the inspiring posts all these years, and do please keep them coming. For they have enriched our lives. For this I thank you. ;)

    1. Arti,

      You’re not too late! I grew up in a family that always talked about “Thanksgiving weekend” – for me, it lasts through Sunday. One reason was that Grandma never thought one day was enough time to list all the things we should be grateful for. She’d leave a piece of paper on the dining table, and every time someone thought of another reason for gratitude, they’d add it to the list. It was lots of fun, but we needed all those days!

      I’m just so pleased that you’ve enjoyed so many of my posts, and grateful you’ve been such a faithful reader. With luck, this will be the year I finally get organized enough to take part in one of your read-alongs. But first, I have to go see Life of Pi and Skyfall. ;)


  25. Setting aside at least one day during the year to be grateful for the blessings we’ve received in life is a wonderful thing. I wish we had something similar here in the Philippines.

    This is a beautiful post!

    You’re right: we live in a world where negativity, and even despair is the norm. Sad to say, it is exacerbated by the media. (“Bad news is good news.”)

    We really need to focus on the good things happening in our lives and be grateful for them (which, by the way, really takes a lot of effort for me, since I’m a pessimist by nature). The atmosphere of doom and gloom that seems to be everywhere needs to be banished from our midst.

    I really like it when you say:

    “…I still prefer the folly of hope – a willingness to believe, despite substantial evidence to the contrary, that humanity is as capable of good as of evil, that joy remains a lively possibility and that, no matter how shattered, trust can be rebuilt. Paraphrasing Faulkner’s famous words, I choose to believe humanity will be able not only to endure the shouted No! of history but also to prevail by the Yes! of courageous human hearts.”

    Thank you, Linda, for sharing with us your thoughts about gratitude and hope. And Happy Thanksgiving!


    1. Matt,

      Thanksgiving Day is a good thing. Cynics might say we’ve forgotten how to be grateful and critics might say, “What about the other 364 days?”, but like Christmas, birthdays, New Year’s Day, Chanukah and other holidays, the day provides what’s been called “an oasis in time” for reflection and renewal.

      You’re so right about the media. I was horrified by the vitriol being spewed by both sides during our recent electoral “season”. Beyond that, much of what passes for “entertainment” these days is either violent or vapid – not much of a choice!

      Ah, well. As you point out, we do have another choice. We can turn off the tv and radio, stop listening to hate-mongers, and ignore the ones who seem dedicated to proving any kind of faith, hope or charity worthless. There’s an old quotation, attributed to a variety of people, that goes, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Believe me, honey, rich is better.” A corollary probably is, “I’ve been nice and I’ve been nasty. Believe me – nice is better!”

      Thanks for the Thanksgiving wishes. It was a fine day.


  26. A wonderful and thoughtful post — I’ve missed a lot during my time away from the Land of Blog. There is a wonderful song — probably by Kander & Ebb since Liza sings it called “Yes.” “Life keeps happening every day, say yes. You never win if you never play, say yes.” And much more. It’s an anthem. And one I wish I heard more of. I’ve much to catch up on. Yes. I do.

    1. jeanie,

      Not being much of a Liza Minelli fan, I’d missed the song “Yes”, but it certainly does have the feel of an anthem of affirmation. It actually reminded me of another one I love – Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance”. Hers is a little more country than Broadway, but it’s very, very nice, and communicates the same hope. I think you’ll like it if you don’t know it.

      I hope your Thanksgiving was a fine one – and that you and Rick both are back to good health. It just occurred to me that you probably have been up to your neck in craft shows – I hope they went well!


    1. Claudia,

      It is, indeed. And every time we engage in a little creation – cakes, a painted room, a new flower planted – we’re saying “yes”, too. With other bits of creation – new families, new babies, new jobs, a move to a new city – we’re more or less shouting “yes!”. But it’s the “yes” that’s important.

      Hope your Thanksgiving weekend was more yes than no!


  27. I love how you began with a little boy’s tantrum in a Target store and ended with that beautiful Carl Sandburg poem which I didn’t know. You are a wordsmith Linda!

    Saying “No” to a cookie reminds me of a cartoon I saw – sorry I can’t remember where.
    Each picture showed the block of Republicans standing in the House voting, each time with a “Hell No!”, and in the last picture one guy turned to his friend and said “I agree with this. Why must we always vote No?”

    Many thanks to Steve Schwartzman for finding the link of Carl Sandburg reading the poem. I’m going to listen to him again.

    1. rosie,

      You really would enjoy getting a copy of the entire text of “The People, Yes”. It’s just marvelous. I wonder if your museum sells “The Family of Man”, the collection of Steichen’s photos? Sandburg wrote the introduction – he was Steichen’s brother-in-law.

      Isn’t the reading wonderful? Did you notice that the video is actually computer-generated? The recording is Sandburg, but they created the visual. I was so focused on the reading the first time, I paid little attention to what I was seeing. The power of words and voice!


      1. What, that video was computer generated? I was tricked again? Sheesh! I saw the movie “The life of Pi” last Friday and had no idea that the tiger was computer generated until I read about it in the Sunday NY Times!

        Good lord Linda I didn’t know that Sandburg was Steichen’s b in law! I don’t know if I ever read the introduction to “the Family of Man”. I’m going to look for my copy of it.

        btw you’ve quoted Annie Dillard’s book “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” to me several times this year so I bought the book last month. Love it! I just read the chapter on “Seeing.”

        1. It is amazing what can be done with computer-generated effects, isn’t it? DId you read “Life of Pi” before you saw the film? I’ve read several reviews of the book & think I might read it before seeing the movie.

          I’m so glad you’re enjoying “Pilgrim”. It’s one of the richest, most evocative books I’ve read. I re-read chapters on a regular basis, depending on what I’m pondering.

          1. I read the Life of Pi many years ago (when it was first published) and LOVED it. I always think its a good idea to read the book first before seeing the movie. Don’t you?

            1. For me, that’s a pretty theoretical question, since most of what I read isn’t ever going to be made into a film, and I don’t see many movies! But yes – I always would read the book first.

    1. That was quick! Here’s an interesting question – and I don’t know the answer, myself. Did Steichen choose the title for “Family of Man” because of the line in his BIL’s poem, “The People, Yes”? Something else to go on the to-be-researched list. ;)

  28. Your post made me think about how incredibly insignificant we all are, in the scheme of things, but at the same time how powerful we are. Our self-absorption can easily turn into a lifetime of whining, resentment, and even great harm. But if we can manage to channel our imagined importance into a desire to care for each other, then the power somehow becomes real. That possibility is what keeps the hope flickering for me.

    1. Charles,

      You know, it’s funny. My take on it is just the opposite – my view is that each of us is infinitely significant, and that one of our greatest temptations is to forget the source of our value. But that’s another discussion entirely.

      There’s no question that self-absorption and a sense of entitlement can turn into whining and resentment. But the world is full of good people who are capable of seeing the good in others, even others who differ from them considerably. It can get a little tightrope-ish, but it can be done. It doesn’t take much fanning to get those hope-embers burning again. ;)


  29. An interesting event that you described so well and that leads, as often with you, to more deeper thoughts. When I read “No”, the first “Non” that came to mind was Edith Piaf’s famous song “Non, je ne regrette rien” (No, I don’t regret anything). In her thoughts, it was a positive No.

    Briefly said, the artist remembers her past, good and bad, making a clean break with her past about her memories, sorrows, loves and pleasures. Edith concludes this magnificent song in her soulful voice in singing :”No, I don’t regret anything at all, because today my life, my joys start with you”(her love).

    Sorry for the poor translation but I thought this was a beautiful NO because it is the start of another Hope in Life.

    1. Dear Isa, your translations never are poor. And Piaf’s song is a wonderful addition to this discussion of “no”. I’ve heard people compare it to Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way”, but the songs are quite different in tone and perspective. Sinatra’s looking backward only. As you note, Piaf is looking forward, letting go of the past in favor of a new and better future.

      Sandburg has the people say, “Where to? What next? Piaf sings, “Wherever, whatever, it doesn’t matter.” Both are wonderful ways to move on!


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