Balm for Cynicism

Respect and gratitude for our system of government runs deep in me. I certainly have strong political opinions and commitments and understand the partisan dynamic that makes a two party system work. But I also trust the wisdom of voting citizens, ultimately – not always, but ultimately, to make responsible decisions and elect honest, responsible representatives. I have known a few personally over the years and found them to be persons of integrity, high ideals and a strong sense of vocation in the public, political arena.

My respect and gratitude are being tried at the moment. The federal government is about to shut down and we face a looming credit default in the midst of partisan wrangling and name calling, as one party seems willing to risk economic disaster in order to thwart the other party and humiliate the President. I watched in both amusement and disgust as a United States Senator filibustered for 21 hours, essentially preventing the Senate from working, and then voted for the bill he had filibustered, embarrassing his colleagues from his own party.

Here at home, both city and state are in dire straits fiscally as a result of irresponsible decision making over many years. Pension funds are seriously underfunded, two former governors are in jail, another former alderman is going to jail for using campaign contributions as his personal bank account, a not uncommon practice in Illinois and Chicago politics.

There are ample reasons for cynicism instead of respect and gratitude.

But last week we traveled to Washington, D.C. One of my very favorite experiences is to fly into Washington National|\Reagan Airport on a sunny day. The approach is over rolling, green hills of Pennsylvania and Maryland, the outskirts of the city, and as the plane continues its descent, directly down the Potomac River, with the magnificent Federal City stretched out on the left side of the plane; gleaming Capitol Building, Washington Monument clad in classy scaffolding that seems to accent its grace, Lincoln Memorial we have been thinking about, remembering the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the elegant Jefferson Memorial. I was as thrilled to see it again as I ever have been.

On Saturday afternoon our hosts arranged a brief sight seeing tour. My second visit to the F.D.R. Memorial reminded me that the nation faced two very real threats, the Great Depression and a World War, and how strong, wise political leadership got us through. A first-time visit to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was equally inspiring. Pictures don’t do it justice. Carved out of a literal mountain of rock King emerges almost majestically, surrounded on both sides by memorable excerpts from his speeches and sermons. It reminded me again that this nation can change and get better, has changed and will change again – because the system, in spite of current stresses and strains, hubris and silliness, ultimately works.

We concluded our afternoon at the World War Two Memorial. It was raining softly and the other visitors and I kept a reverent silence. My family lost three members: 2 uncles, a cousin, another cousin missing in action over Italy who escaped from a German P.O.W. camp and returned home. I was seven years old but I remember them all. The quiet dignity of the Memorial reminded me of them again and their sacrifice and also of the nation’s resilience.

It was a balm for my impatient cynicism and renewed both respect and gratitude – and also hope.


  1. And of course there is always the statue of Fala, FDR’s faithful Scottish Terrier to renew the soul of those who love them (Scots, that is). I have hope in a system that allows such dissent as a 21 hour filibuster. And that hope gives me strength to fight for our freedoms that are continually under attack.

  2. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Your writing is powerful and I am blessed to hear your voice saying these words. In Cuyahoga County we only have sixty public officials in Federal Prison! It is so hard with all the noise to hear what the memorials were saying to you in DC. Thanks for reminding me to listen to the good!

  3. Thank you, John, for the lift on a dreary day for America. It’s easy to be cynical today. Gratitude and hope come hard. They come today in the silence. The silence is full. The speeches are empty.

  4. Reblogged this on VIEWS from the EDGE and commented:
    Friend and colleague John Buchanon posted this piece last night.

  5. There is good happening. It’s just hard to see right now — maybe it’s the forest blocking the trees phenomenon?

  6. Ted Davis says:

    So very well said, John. Thank you! …makes it hard to add anything of value!

    Thanks to your family for its sacrifices in WWII. I wish I could have taken my father to the WWII memorial to also hold a moment of reverent silence. Sometimes I stroll through Arlington National Cemetery in awe of the sacrifices so many have made for our country.

    I like a part of Kipling’s familiar IF that reads,
    “If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;…”

    …hoping and praying our leaders can find a way to see the other side clearly enough to make allowance for their doubting — and to forge agreements instead of disagreements.

  7. Beautiful. Dr. King himself quoted the African American Spiritual which answers Jeremiah’s prophetic query: “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.”

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