In Search of Hope & Joy

“Stay gentle, keep the eyes of a child

Don’t harden your heart or your hands

Know to find joy in the darkness is wise

Although they will think you don’t understand

Don’t let the world make you callous

Be ready to laugh

No one’s forgotten about us

There is light on your path

—“Stay Gentle” lyrics by Brandi Carlile


This will be my last post for 2021.

I want to wish you all a happy, safe, and joyous Christmas and New Year and I want to thank you for reading. I’m grateful for your time and attention every Monday (and sometimes Wednesdays).

This column is a labor of love and something that I look forward to every week.

I cherish your feedback and take it all to heart.

As we wrap up 2021, I find myself thinking about the twin concepts of hope and joy.

Those words were planted in my brain by none other than Stevie Van Zandt, guitarist for the E Street Band, and the guy who played Silvio on The Sopranos.

I just finished Mr. Zan Vandt’s awesome autobiography “Unrequited Infatuations” which has become a surprise best seller. The book is terrific, and I love the title because it summarizes the experiences of most guys I know. Sigh.

Littler Steven is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, consigliere to Bruce Springsteen and a political activist who played a prominent role in the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa. He’s also quietly been at the forefront of everything from satellite radio and Netflix’s international expansion to the resurgence of arts education through his “Teach Rocks” foundation and curriculum.

He seems like a cool guy and is certainly a larger-than-life figure hanging out with the likes of Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, James Gandolfini and Little Richard. Now that’s a dinner party!

A minor but recurring theme of the book is the notion that we, as a society and as a nation, have lost our sense of hope and joy.
Stevie feels that those words were a common thread behind the spirit of the 1960s, but somewhere along the way we lost our mojo.

There’s no joy in Mudville as they say. Little hope that the world we inhabit will get better.

The 60s were a turbulent era—war, assassinations, street protests, struggles for civil and equal rights. But despite the chaos, Mr. Van Zandt says there was joy and hope in our music, in our culture and even in our politics. There was a sense that we were working toward a more perfect union.

I’ve been thinking about these heavy topics amidst the turbulence and division of 2021.

We’ve lost 800,000 plus Americans to Covid; but instead of this threat binding us together; the virus has driven us apart—physically, spiritually and politically.

We hold elections and a great many no longer trust the results.

Faith in our institutions—government, courts, media, schools, universities, the financial system and businesses are suffering according to public opinion surveys. Attendance at religious services— in person and on-line— is dropping.

It’s a scary time of public health crises, inflation, climate change and spasms of gun violence.

We fear and loathe those who do not think like us.

Right here at home, we end the year with arguably our greatest civic icon, Frances Bourque, embroiled in a lawsuit pitting Old School Square against the City of Delray Beach. Think about that for a moment. It’s just a big, loud (and sad) wow.

Which begs the question; is there still room for joy? Is there space for hope to take root in such a climate?

I believe there is.

I have no evidence to support my feelings. No magic formula that says things will get better other than faith.

I still have faith.

It may be misplaced, it may be delusional, but I still harbor a belief that before we sink further our better angels will wake up and save the day.

As Mets fans used to say: “Ya Gotta Believe”.

Reknitting our torn social fabric is the leadership challenge of a lifetime. The stakes could not be higher. I believe the survival of American Democracy is at stake and because we remain a beacon for the world, if we fail, there will be grave global implications. The world needs America. And we need her too.

So, what should we do?
Well, we need to re-establish the existence of objective facts. That won’t be easy but if half of our population says today is Monday and the other says Tuesday, where does that get us?

If half the nation wants to try and address climate change but the other half doesn’t– what happens to our world if the overwhelming majority of scientists are correct and we are indeed experiencing an existential crisis affecting every corner of our globe?

If we hold elections and half the country doesn’t trust their basic integrity how do we function as a Democracy?

And if we lose faith in our courts and large swaths of our nation decides to ignore rulings where does that leave the rule of law, the basic building block of a civilized society?

I don’t know the answers or even where to begin, yet I remain full of hope that we can somehow find a way forward.

It seems to be that most people I interact with—on both sides of the aisle—are pretty miserable these days, especially at the state of our politics—on all levels federal, state and local.

There’s no joy and where’s there no joy hope wanes.

As someone who believes in the power of community, I believe the answers start right here at home.

We can resolve to be kinder to each other. We can resolve to talk more and shout less. We can resolve to listen to those who are disaffected.

We can make it a point to confront bullies and not cede them the public square.

We can resolve to respect each other, to listen and to be stewards instead of bulldozers.

We can summon the courage to stand up and be counted— in a respectful way of course. We can stop pretending that we can’t be found when our friends ask us to stand up for what’s right.

We can show up and speak truth to power even if that truth may hurt our interests in the short term. It’s called doing the right thing.

We can react or we can respond.

From Seth Godin: “When we react to a medicine, that’s a bad thing. When we respond, it’s working.”

We can throw a tantrum or we can respond—with something that works. With an approach we’re proud of, proud of even after the moment has passed. It’s not easy, it’s often not fun, but it’s the professional’s choice.

It’s also the citizen’s choice. We need to become citizens again.

We can save our communities. We have the power to do so.

It starts with kindness and empathy and ends with joy and hope.

Joy keeps us going. So does hope. Right now, we have to keep moving forward even when we feel tired and want to chuck it all. Especially when we are tired. We must never ever give up.

Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and a safe New Year.

I’ll leave with part of a  poem called “One Today”  that I recently discovered. It’s by Richard Blanco.

“We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight

of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,

always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon

like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop

and every window, of one country—all of us—

facing the stars

hope—a new constellation

waiting for us to map it,

waiting for us to name it—together.”




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