E.B. White on Hope

E.B. White

I’m really bad about reading magazines.  Every now and again, I’ll pick one up and read one or two articles before setting it on a shelf with the intention of returning to it later.  In reality, I forget about it until I start cleaning out said shelf.

Yesterday, I picked up the September issue of Reader’s Digest with full knowledge that it probably wouldn’t be read in its entirety.  I like to conduct exercises in futility, you see.  I am glad, though, that I bought it because it contains a letter from E.B. White on the subject of hope.

White is best known for his children’s book Charlotte’s Web but he also co-authored The Elements of Style.  One of my favorite books as a kid was also written by him: The Trumpet of the Swan, about the adventures of a nature-loving boy and a mute swan.  White is known for his wisdom, humor, and love of animals.  Every time I read something by him, I walk away feeling a little happier and a little better about myself and those around me, something rather crucial in these days of riots, murders, and invasions.

Here is what White wrote in response to a very pessimistic letter, as quoted in Reader’s Digest, September 2014 issue, page 16:

North Brooklin, Maine
30 March 1973

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

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