“These Are the Times!” – Say Thomas, Charles & Sheila!

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Thomas Paine, Charles Dickins, and Sheila

Now although what I’m about to say may be a bit on the macabre side, words of wisdom and perspective widening often arise from the tombs of writers whose messages can resonate long after they’re dead. Hold that thought for now.

You see, no sooner than I was trying to recover from the horrific shootings of 10 African Americans in Buffalo, than I was punched in the gut with the news of 21 people, 19 of them kids, getting slaughtered by a sick gunman in an elementary school in Texas. 

Before long, – c’mon we know the script – the carnage will repeat itself in shorter and shorter intervals of time as we again find ourselves in mental (and sometimes physical) lockdown grappling for solace and searching for answers to this growing uniquely American insanity.

Now all this got me thinking deeply about the word “times,” specifically how the word applies to today’s times and challenges. I thought about the words of Thomas Paine and Charles Dickins and what they wrote about the times they lived in over a century ago. 

Wrote Paine in his 1776 The American Crisis, “These are the times that try men’s souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” 

Given what’s transpired in the world over the past few years, the mass shootings, not only are our souls being tested, but our anger, patience, and stress levels are all teetering on irreversible collapse. 

With that built up frustration, I turn to another famous author. 

In his 1859 classic, Tale of Two Cities, novelist Charles Dickins started off with: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”   

Although for yours truly, these two often repeated quotes seemed to really apply to the times that we’re going through now, I was still left with a desire for something more, something that could possibly drive personal reflection, discomfort, accountability and behavioral change. 

Now if on cue, I received, “Paradox of Our Time,” (author unknown) from a brilliant and talented author who I grew up with in Virginia, “Sheila.” Here’s how it reads:

“The paradox of our time in history Is that we have taller buildings, but shorter tempers. Wider freeways but narrower viewpoints. We spend more but have less. We buy more but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families. More conveniences but less time. 

We have more degrees but less sense. More knowledge but less judgement. More experts yet more problems. More medicine but less wellness. We have multiplied our possessions but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom and hate too often.

We’ve learned how to make a living but not a life. We’ve added years to life but not life to years. We’ve been to the moon but have trouble crossing the street to meet new neighbors. We’ve conquered outer space but not Inner space. We’ve cleaned up the air but polluted the soul. We’ve spilt the atom but not our prejudice. We have higher Income but lower morals. We’ve become long in quantity but short on quality. 

These are the times of tall men and short character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the times of world peace but domestic warfare; more leisure but less fun; more food but less nutrition. These are the days of two Incomes but more divorce: of fancier houses but broken homes. It is a time when there is much in the show window but nothing in the stockroom, a time when this message can call you to not accept the status quo and choose to make a difference or just Ignore the timeliness of this message and continue to talk the talk and not walk the walk.”

  So, once we mouth our usual humdrum “my thoughts and prayers” before kicking the can down the road to some higher being to deal with, take an honest look at the person in the mirror and ask him/her,” what will I do to make a difference, to interrupt the madness of these “worst of times?”

© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, Blackmarket.com, Hometown Advantage, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award.