Consolation and Hope in a Challenging Time

On most days, I wouldn’t be quoting President Abraham Lincoln. At a different time, this atheist might not be looking for solace in scripture, though I am often comforted when I do.

Today I’m doing both and offering their consolation to you.

Lincoln, this country’s Civil War President, authorized a day of “national prayer and humiliation” in the midst of that war. His proclamation reads, in part:

I do … designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite … in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

Humiliation fits for this time, too, just after the storming of the Capitol. Fasting fits, as is expected on the annual Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. Self-reflection is necessary. Humility and prayer create the appropriate attitude and mood for the occasion.

People are dying. Loneliness overwhelms many, poverty and joblessness terrify, sadness covers the homes and the hearts. Then came the mob.

Humiliation, indeed.

Yet, there is hope.

Lincoln’s leadership continued under even more challenging circumstances.

As the Civil War neared its end, the President offered these lines in closing his Second Inaugural Address of March 4, 1865. His message was one of reconciliation between opposing sides:

With malice toward none with charity for all with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan ~ to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Abraham Lincoln knew our job is always to repair the world.

Reverend William Sloane Coffin, 100 years later, knew it, too. He offered this in prayer: 

Lord … Number us, we beseech Thee, in the ranks of those who went forth … longing only for those things for which Thee dost make us long, men for whom the complexity of issues only serves to renew their zeal to deal with them, men who allieviated pain by sharing it, and men who are always willing to risk something big for something good — so may we leave in the world a little more truth, a little more justice, and a little more beauty than would have been there had we not loved the world enough to quarrel with it for what it is not — but still could be. …


The top painting is called Woman at Prayer by Harry Wilson Watrous. Next comes The Morning Prayer by Ludwig Deutsch. The final image is the photo of a Nomad Prayer taken in an African desert, sometime between 1931 and 1936. The photographer was Kazimierz Nowak.

William Sloane Coffin’s prayer can be heard near the end of the award-winning radio collage/documentary created by Studs Terkel and Jim Unrath, Born to Live:

For the Dark Night of the Soul: “Born to Live”


“Where words leave off, music begins.” No argument with Heinrich Heine, but I would say that music and words together sometimes are more powerful than either alone. Case in point, the documentary Born to Live.

You probably haven’t heard it, unless you live in Chicago or have followed the career of the legendary oral historian and radio personality, Studs Terkel.

This collage of voices and words has been broadcast as the first offering each January 1 on radio station WFMT. Created in 1961, during the “Cold War,” it remains timeless; designed to lift you up on those lonely nights at 3:00 a.m. when everything seems to be pulling you down. Once heard, you will not forget it.

Enough. Listen:

The photo is called Beach Sunset Newport Coast. Catalina Island is in the background. It is the work of Axion23 and is sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

To Your Good (Mental) Health: One Hundred Resolutions for the New Year

Just a few random thoughts on what you might choose to resolve (begin, stop, or continue) in 2012:


  • raise your hand
  • take a chance
  • diversify both your economic and emotional life: resist putting all your eggs in one basket, financial or human
  • learn to say “no”
  • there will always be someone better, someone smarter, and someone better looking; get used to it
  • exercise
  • don’t text or tweet the day away
  • give up on TV news soundbites and actually read something in-depth on the state of the world from a relatively unbiased source
  • look in the mirror at what is underneath the surface
  • make friends


  • when upset, imagine how you will feel in a week, a month, or a year; in other words, know that most turmoil is passing
  • don’t be a doormat
  • deal with your childhood
  • be honest, not just when it is convenient
  • work hard (don’t learn the tricks of the trade before you learn the trade)
  • sometimes the rain won’t stop, so discover how to dance in the rain
  • be grateful and express it
  • learn to apologize without excuses
  • pay it forward
  • pay it back


  • before sending an angry email, write down 40 ways your missive can be misunderstood or ruin your life; then wait some more before sending
  • find some hobbies
  • eat right
  • beware of hopelessness, but do not became a slave to hope’s capacity for illusion
  • avoid too much self distraction
  • remind yourself that there is no such thing as “must-see TV”
  • don’t abuse substances
  • laugh
  • you have a shadow; best that you get to know it since you most certainly can’t outrun it
  • stand for yourself, but also for something bigger


  • have humility
  • be careful about judging
  • have new experiences and learn from them
  • don’t wait until your feelings change to act (act and your feelings are likely to change)
  • recognize that luck plays a part in life
  • be flexible — don’t inflexibly resist change
  • grieve when necessary, lest things build up
  • make eye contact
  • if you are anxious, learn to be less concerned about others’ opinions
  • realize that money isn’t everything and that the American Dream is a fraud


  • know that your kids aren’t all the same and that each one needs something different from you
  • sample things — try them before you say you have no interest in them
  • don’t wait for your savior, save yourself
  • choose your battles, but don’t permanently lay down your arms
  • treat your body as if you might just need it for a while
  • recognize that you are not as important as you think (unless you are the President, a brain surgeon, or the second coming of  Shakespeare)
  • spend less time worrying and accept that most bad things are survivable
  • be an informed citizen, learn about history and vote
  • make haste slowly
  • don’t accept easy answers


  • embrace the opportunity to perform
  • every committee has work horses and show horses; choose the first role lest you look like an ass
  • stay out-of-the-way of people who are bulldozers; it’s only a matter of time before they run you over
  • get out of the city into nature and be dazzled
  • spend time with a few members of a different faith, color, religious group, or political party and get a new perspective
  • As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do”
  • do your best to ignore Ashton, Britney, “The Donald,” Kim, Lindsay, Snooki, and “The Real Housewives;” emptier lives are not to be found unless it is among their fans
  • keep your cell phone off the dinner table and make public cell phone conversations as private and rare as possible
  • don’t text while driving — ever
  • remind yourself every day that (with luck) you are going to get old, wrinkled, and die


  • practice, practice, practice
  • remember that this is not the rehearsal, this is the performance
  • don’t be self-righteous
  • get some rest
  • consider whether those guys carrying signs that say “Repent, the end is near!” might be on to something
  • ask yourself “What would Jesus do?” before you foreclose on someone’s house or stiff your waiter
  • realize that being confused might be an opportunity to learn
  • ask questions
  • when you say you are going to do something, do it
  • keep secrets when asked to do so


  • don’t be a gossip
  • recognize that a life of logic (without a counterbalance of feeling) is the equivalent of becoming a mathematical formula or a computer
  • learn to be direct
  • don’t have sex while chewing gum; and, for sure, don’t make it as unremarkable as chewing gum
  • do one thing at a time, with all your attention
  • don’t talk over others; listen when spoken to; be polite
  • get over yourself
  • trust, but verify
  • find the poetry in the prosaic and the cool in the quotidian
  • earn your life


  • have a good time
  • meditate
  • live with intensity
  • be kind
  • surrender to intimacy
  • make your life matter
  • live by the “golden rule”
  • study all your life
  • be an enemy of routine
  • love someone or something


  • make new mistakes
  • test yourself
  • swing for the fences; shoot for something big
  • try to figure out where you are headed; it’s harder to get there unless you know
  • learn to tell a joke
  • take time to smell the roses
  • keep a lid on the number of complaints you utter and the number of excuses you make
  • get off the cross, we need the wood
  • whether you are a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond, be sure you learn to swim
  • and, to quote Studs Terkel: “Take it easy, but take it”

The above photo of a New Year Streamer is sourced from Wikimedia Commons.