The Sunday Magazine·THE SUNDAY EDITION

The summer of our discontent: Michael's essay

"Trying to tweeze out tiny shards of hope, of something approaching optimism after this our first summer in the evolving dis-Trumpian universe is like trying to enjoy a Bach cantata in a shopping mall. Futile and frustrating..."

Trying to tweeze out tiny shards of hope, of something approaching optimism after this our first summer in the evolving dis-Trumpian universe is like trying to enjoy a Bach cantata in a shopping mall.

Futile and frustrating.

It has been a summer of great discontent and  nothing feels right. Our internal compasses are out of order.

Some old friends disappeared. Others came down with what we insist on calling "health challenges."

The weather gods turned against us with unimaginable vehemence. More than 160 wildfires in British Columbia levelled pine forests and drove people from their homes.

High winds and rain sweep through the streets in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 6, 2017. (The Associated Press)
Indigenous people in Northern Manitoba had to be helicoptered off their reserve ahead of a wildfire.

And the rains came, day after day. They destroyed corn and other crops in central Canada and parts of the west.

Hurricane winds drowned the fourth largest city in the United States. It will take years if not decades for Houston to recover.

After Harvey, came Irma---more devastation and the September song was written on 300 kilometre an hour winds.

And then Mexico - an earthquake. On and on and on.

U.S. President Donald Trump on August 30, 2017. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
In the White House, the prince of disorder threatened nuclear annihilation over North Korea while his military and diplomatic aides urgently tried to calm him down.

Strange, vulgar men came and went, in through the Oval Office, out by the side door.

The 45th president, allegedly a Republican, went to war with the leaders of his own party.

This was something never done before. Presidential historians and commentators crowded TV chat panels, dusting off the ancient and sacred texts of the Republic, nervously searching for precedent.

In a town a two-hour drive from the White House, neo-Nazis and other dim-eyed anti-Semites marched and carried torches and a young woman was run down and killed by a white supremacist.

The President in his White House took his time denouncing the racism and the violence.

Our summers are supposed to be calming times. Our bodies and minds are seasonally wired for relaxation and ease, not angst and emotional turmoil.

It is supposed to be a time of nothing more urgent than children jumping into a lake or learning to ride a first bike; a time for grandparents to enjoy an unhealthy barbecue of ribs and cheese burgers; a time for trips to a cottage or a faraway exotic place.

Instead, this late summer has left us all twitchy.

People on buses and subways look tired and harried. Their mouths are grimly set.

And looming is the real time understanding that colder and darker days are on the horizon.

We try to distract ourselves. We make resolutions that will change our lives; we move from the minor to the major key, and we look on the cheery side of things.

Like dieting or stopping smoking, almost impossible to do effectively.

In 1973, a man named Nadeau wrote to the great New Yorker essayist E.R. White complaining that the world was in an awful state, that everybody including himself was depressed and that the future looked dim and grim.

White wrote back. He agreed that the world of 1973 was in deep trouble, that "human beings have made a queer mess of life on this planet."

He then talked about hope, "the thing that is left to us in bad times."

"I shall get up Sunday morning," he wrote, "and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness."

Hope, remember, was the only element left in the box opened by Pandora, after all the evils of the world were released.

White urged the distressed Mr. Nadeau to concentrate on the hopeful expectation that things usually get better the next day.

"Hang onto your hat," he concluded. "Hang onto your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day."

Or as Winston Churchill put it: "If you're going through hell, keep going."


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