Turning the Worst of Times Into the Best of Times

Winter Sunrise over Scottish Museum of Modern Art

Professor Joe Goldblatt

At the end of the calendar year, human beings often look back and take account of the many challenges faced during the previous twelve months. This year, for me and millions of others throughout the world, has been a year like no other. The litany of challenges was somewhat unprecdented in recent human history and included the following shocks.

The Early 2021 Extended Lock Down Limiting Our Social Interaction,

Spread of Delta Variant of Corona Virus, Discovery and Rapid Spread of Omicron Variant,

The Sudden, Tumultuous and Tragic End to Many Years of Military Intervention in Afghanistan,

Constant Political Upheaval,

Threatening Environmental Catastrophes from Wild Fires to Tornadoes to Global Warming. and

Much, Much More.

As I look back at the past year in abject horror, I am reminded of the Thornton Wilder 1942 play “The Skin of Our Teeth” in which the Antrobus family in the space of the two hour drama survives major catastrophes such as the Ice Age, World Wars, the Great Flood, the Napoleonic Wars and other societal shocks. Their maid at one early point during the Ice Age announces “It is so cold the dogs are sticking to the sidewalks and the world is at sixes and sevens.” Wilder wrote this Pulitzer Prize winning play during World War II when the world was literally at sixes and sevens with no end in sight.

Throughout history humans have looked to our poets, playwrights, philosophers and other great artists to help us make sense of the world. During a very difficult time in my own life, I recall playing a small part in a 1976 production of William Saroyan’s “The Time of Your Life”. This play was also written during World War II. The following lines provided the poetry that stiffened my spine following a bitter divorce.

“In the time of your life, live – so that in good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding place and let it be free and unashamed … In the time of your life live so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the absolute delight and mystery of it.”

Therefore, I have followed Mr Saroyan’s wise counsel and found many more reasons to smile at the absolute delight and mystery of life this past year to try and counter balance the travails we have also experienced. During the past year I have been blessed with this garden of earthly delights.

A grandchild smiling with pride and confidence as he performs his first Christmas play.

A physically healthy body and mind.

The increasing opportunity to travel and see long time absent friends and family.

Experiencing the unique and rare natural beauty of Scotland from Orkney to the Borders and beyond.

The savoury smells and sweet tastes emerging on a daily basis from our kitchen.

The friendship and companionship from a long marriage to a loving woman who still finds me interesting.

The civic and political leadership throughout Scotland that is working hard to create a fairer, more equal and just society for all of our citizens.

The rapid discovery and mass distribution of millions of dosages of life saving vaccines.

The efforts of our younger citizens throughout the world to create a more sustainable world for all of us through their environmental activism.

The unconditional love and kindness of long time friends and even strangers as I suffered from depression related to loss and uncertainty.

In Wilder’s play, the maid is told by her employer during the Ice Age to burn everything “except the Shakespeare” to produce enough warmth to insure the survival of their family during this difficult time. As we prepare to once again celebrate the two hundred and sixty – third birthday of Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns, we may find even greater sustenance to meet the challenges of the new year through his own powerful verse. In 1786, upon his first visit to our capital city he wrote these immortal words in his Address to Edinburgh.

Edina! Scotia’s darling seat!

All hail thy palaces and tow’rs,

Where once beneath a Monarch’s feat,

Sat Legislation’s sov’reign pow’rs!

From marking wildly – scatt’red flow’rs,

As on the banks of Ayr I stray’d,

And singing, lone, the ling’ring hours,

I shelter in thy honour’ed shade.

Perhaps we should now raise our sights in the early days of the new year, as did Burns, in order to discover new palaces, towers and temples of goodness within ourselves and others as we welcome the new year with hope, ambition and a renewed commitment to cherish all that we have to be thankful for. Then we might also discover a deeper appreciation for our poets, playwrights and philosophers whose words may help us find new ways to shelter in the honoured shade of better times to come.

Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. To learn more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot

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