The experts declared “pandemic” to be the word of the year for 2020. The word I have heard most often, however, is “weary.” I don’t know when I have ever seen the nation and our citizens seem so weary.
The 24/7 news cycle — filled with negativity, tragedy and angry rhetoric — adds to our weariness. It is a weariness of both body and mind that unfortunately does not disappear with a good night’s rest. Many in our neighborhoods and communities greet the dawn with weariness, only to feel the discouragement and despair deepen as the day drags on.
Few Americans believe the country is on the right track, and fewer still have confidence that the future will provide improved prospects. No one has confidence that Washington will end the weariness of the nation.
Overcoming the nation’s weariness and creating a positive future for America will — like most worthy undertakings — require us to push past our fatigue, endure difficult days, rally ourselves to a cause bigger than ourselves and rekindle our commitment to community. We should remember that, in most endeavors, we run out of energy long before we run out of opportunity. Weariness is always the enemy of good people who desire to do good.
When I talk to people around the country about the state of the nation, many start with a weary sigh and then express exasperation with the tone of our conversations, frustration with the pathetic rhetoric of both political parties, and worry about those they love and what will become of their work, company or community.
Then, in typical American fashion, they straighten up a bit and say they remain hopeful that the country can turn the page from what has felt like a long dark night in 2020, and that a new day will dawn for the country. The resilience of people always amazes and inspires me. I have, once again, reflected on what it will take to usher in that new day for America. There are many big things that must be done, but the dawn of a new day will begin with small and seemingly insignificant acts by individuals.
Long years ago I heard a story that may hold part of the answer for America. A Jewish rabbi sat enjoying the sunrise with two of his friends. The rabbi asked one of the men, “How do you know when the night is over and a new day has begun?”
One friend replied, “When you can look into the east and can distinguish a sheep from a goat, then you know the night is over and the day has begun.” The second man was asked the same question by the rabbi and replied, “When you can look into the distance and distinguish an olive tree from a fig tree, then you know the darkness of the night is past and a new morning has come.”
The two friends then asked the rabbi how he could tell when the night was over and the day had begun. The rabbi thought for a long time and then said, “When you can look into the east and see the face of a woman and you can say, ‘She is my sister.’ And when you can look into the east and see the face of a man and can say, ‘He is my brother.’ Then you know the light of a new day has come.”
The night of weariness ends and the new day for our country begins with kindness and with treating each other, especially the stranger and the struggling, like brothers and sisters.
Of George Albert Smith, eighth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it was said that “he lacked the prowess of an athlete, that he was too homely to win popular favor, and that his weak eyes prevented him from becoming a scholar, but he could excel in human kindness. So, he made love and kindness his specialty.”
On the dark night after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy stepped onto the back of a truck to address an already weary crowd. He acknowledged the devastating darkness of the night, then invited his listeners to join him in creating a new dawn. He said, “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another.”
We have much to do to move the country forward. Many difficult conversations will be required, authentic leadership will be needed, and the engagement of every citizen will be essential. We can start, however by recognizing that we are all travelers.
When we glance at the masked faces of those we pass each day we must look deeper into the eyes of weary strangers and see into the faces of our brothers and sisters — our fellow travelers. If we do, weariness can be washed away — and a new day for us, and for them, can dawn. Morning will come to America — but it is up to each of us to help usher it in.
And the words for 2021 will be hope and resilience.
Portions of this column appeared previously in the Deseret News.