By Fred Benson
I’ve been around a long time. Over the course of these ever-increasing decades, there were times when I was concerned or downright frightened about the events or circumstances enveloping our country.
I can remember worrying about the safe return of my uncle from a B-17 unit based in England and trembling in the dark as air-raid sirens wailed in my neighborhood during World War II.
Then there was the shock of our next-door neighbor boy — and yes, he was still a boy — being drafted to go to Korea. Later, watching the frightened faces of other children crowding into the basement of our school during a nuclear attack drill was terrifying.
When I lived in the Deep South in the early ‘60s, racial discrimination was running rampant all around me, and yet I felt powerless to do anything about it. There followed in quick succession a close call on a nuclear war with Russia during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of John Kennedy, and a few years later, the shootings of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.
Then came the Vietnam War debacle, race riots in Washington, the Nixon resignation, the Gulf War, 9/11 and years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
With varying levels of concern, I have lived through these many events confident that the strength and character of the United States, and those in leadership positions, would sustain our values, our democratic way of life and our esteemed place in the world order.
But now, we are once again uncertain of our future: We are losing the support of our traditional allies, facing the degradation of our environment, forcing more of our citizens to live without health care, creating an even greater income gap between rich and poor, watching a scandalously divided legislature pass bills they have not read and do not understand, living in a seemingly permanent state of war in the Middle East and fearing the growing possibility of another major conflict in Korea.
The difference now is that it seems much more difficult to muster the degree of confidence that has buoyed up this nation to greatness for 241 years. What is missing is the sense of unity that would enable us to clarify common goals and put into action those decisions and programs necessary to right the ship of state on a stable heading to a better and safer world.
As the difficulty of accomplishing that task at the national level becomes more obvious, it falls upon all of us to rebuild unity of purpose from the bottom up. At this time of year, those who are practitioners of faith and those who are not jointly reflect on family togetherness, establishing a peaceful and calm environment and looking out for the interests and needs of others. A wonderful folk song written by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary fame entitled “Light One Candle” enjoins us to broaden and lengthen the essence of this holiday season.
“Light one candle for the strength that we need
To never become our own foe!
And light one candle for those who are suff’ring
Pain we learned so long ago!
Light one candle for all we believe in
That anger not tear us apart!
And light one candle to find us together
With peace as the song in our hearts!
“Don’t let the light go out!
It’s lasted for so many years!
Don’t let the light go out!
Let it shine through our hope and our tears.”
Fred Benson is a resident of Mount Desert and publishes Capitol Commentary, an independent political newsletter.