Considering the headlines about lone gunmen and ISIS, war abroad and political bickering at home, one might be forgiven for feeling a little pessimistic about the future these days.
And that has us thinking about a similarly anxious time in our national life during the 1970s, when the economy was sputtering, the Middle East was fuming, and the war in Vietnam was working its way toward an agonizing close.
In March of 1973, a man named Mr. Nadeau — his first name is now lost to us — surveyed the scene and felt pretty blue. He wrote a letter to E.B. White, the author best known for children’s books such “Charlotte’s Web” and “The Trumpet of the Swan,” to get White’s views on events of the day.
White sounded an encouraging note.
“As long as there is one upright man,” he told Nadeau, “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.”
White’s parting words to Nadeau? “Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.”
White’s letter seems more topical than ever, and it’s been getting a renewed profile lately, thanks to its appearance in “Letters of Note,” a new anthology of classic correspondence, and its republication in a recent edition of Reader’s Digest.
“Wind the clock” sounds like as good an answer as any to the bleakness of the news cycle — a small gesture of resolve, marking the hours until happier tidings arrive.