It’s time to wind the clock

In the very bad year 1973 – things were not as bad as they are today, but they were bad nevertheless – one man’s short, simple letter struck a note of hope and encouragement that continues to reverberate today, especially today, when it’s needed. In that year, inflation was running more than six percent annually in the U.S. and more than eight percent worldwide; OPEC’s manipulation of the petroleum supply was causing the price of gasoline to skyrocket, and gas rationing was the order of the day; the U.S. signed the Paris Peace Accords, a thinly disguised defeat for the U.S. in our pursuit of the Vietnam War and the beginning of a difficult period of rebuilding our deeply divided nation; and Nixon’s resignation from the presidency amid the Watergate scandal was only months away.

In 1973, one Mr. Nadeau sent a distressed letter to E.B. White, lamenting that he had lost faith in humanity. True to his reputation as a celebrant of the human condition and an indefatigable uplifter of the heart, the 74-year-old White sought to raise Nadeau’s spirits in a letter that still speaks today as a spectacular celebration of the human spirit, something we very much need as we approach next week’s midterm elections:

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

As my little contribution to order and steadfastness, I have cast my absentee ballot, and this weekend I’ll walk over to the big grandmother clock in the corner and give it a good wind.

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