9 May

Better Angels (This Photo Is For For Sale). Only The Coward Despairs

by Jon Katz
Hope Not Fear

We returned to the deep woods today, our first walk there in months, the harsh and long winter made it impossible for us to talk there. We loved being back, the canopy is just coming into bloom, and I caught the morning sun opening up the sky and lighting up the new leaves.

Before I went out with Maria and the dogs to walk, I began reading a wonderful new book by historian and biographer Jon Meacham. It’s called The Soul Of America: The Battle For Our Better Angels, and I haven’t finished it, but it is beautifully written, fascinating, meticulously researched and inspiring.

I admit that I passionately believe in hope over fear and anger, but Meacham, like all great historians, reminds us that nothing is really new, and the struggle for our national soul has gone on, almost continuously, since the founding of our country. This really is nothing new, as  jarring as it feels.

History, Meacham reminds us, is not a fairy tale. We have almost always been divided, sometimes torn apart. History is more often tragic than comic, people more often behave badly than nobly, our story is full of broken hearts and lives, and broken promises, disappointed hopes and dreams delayed.

But in the American experience, he writes, trouble and conflict have always produced a better nation, and I believe that is happening even now. And it is true, we have survived much worse than this.

“Hope is sustaining,” he wrotes, “fear can be overcome.” The American story – and The Soul Of America –  is the story of how we have endured many moments of madness and injustice, giving the better angels Lincoln spoke of on the eve of the Civil War a chance to prevail. Hope has always overcome fear anger.

And the better angels did prevail.  Meacham believes they will prevail again, and offers very convincing evidence that they will once more.

I should say that Meacham is not an ideological prisoner of the left or the right, he actually thinks,  this is not a partisan book, it is not about how evil Mr. Trump is or how dangerous progressive people are. It is a sort of wake-up call and walk through the real history of America, not the sanitized versions taught in so many schools.

Mostly, we forget our history, turning instead to the horrors of the daily and greedy corporate news machine.

There are a lot of good people in our country, and they have always been willing to fight for their values and beliefs. I know this book to be sound, because I am living it, my better angels have found me, and I have found them, and they have pulled me away from the dark side and into the light.

Aristotle wrote that “the coward, then, is a despairing sort of person; for he (or she)  fears everything. The brave man,  on the other hand, has the opposite disposition; for confidence is the mark of a hopeful disposition.”

According to St. Augustine, “fear is the loss of what  we love.” Thomas Aquinas wrote that “properly speaking, hope regards only the good; in this respect, hope differs from fear, which regards evil.”

I  recommend the book highly, at least so far, but even more, I recommend hope over fear. Only the coward surrenders to despair.

P.S. In this spirit, I’ve decided to sell this photo, titled “Better Angels.” It costs $130 unframed plus shipping and on the highest quality rag paper. You can buy it from Maria ([email protected]) or on her Etsy page. It will be an 8 1/2 by 12 1/2 print.


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