When I sat down to write this post, I thought it would be one of the hardest posts I’d ever written, simply because I am so disappointed—basically numbed—by the outcome of the election yesterday, both locally as so many of my friends lost their races, but especially nationally. My guess is that from reading what many of you fellow conservatives have written on social media or in emails, or have said to me over the phone, you are feeling some unhappiness today, too.
But, as I was writing, I realized that now is not the time to rehash data, or to argue what could have or should have been; nor is today the right time to start debating how to “fix” or “change” the GOP, locally or nationally. There will be time for all of that soon enough. One of the life- lessons I’ve learned over the years is that the worst time to make a major decision is in the immediate aftermath of either a great victory or a great loss, because one is bound to over-react at such times and make the wrong choices that lead down the wrong path.
So, instead of getting into all of that today, I want to share some quotes and poems that give me solace, and I hope that one or more of these writings will give you some peace of mind from which you can reflect about the state of our country and our party over the days and weeks ahead.
C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, was a book he compiled from his radio broadcasts during the 1940’s about what it means to be a Christian. Here are two of my favorite passages from his book, which I feel are appropriate for conservatives to think about today:
We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man…. There is nothing progressive about being pig headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.
God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing. That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended–civilizations are built up–excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans. And what did God do? First of all He left us conscience, the sense of right and wrong: and all through history there have been people trying (some of them very hard) to obey it. None of them ever quite succeeded. Secondly, He sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men. Thirdly, He selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was–that there was only one of Him and that He cared about right conduct….Then comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time.
One of my favorite poets is Robert Frost. Frost considered himself to be a philosophical dualist. That is, Frost believed that there was no one, coherent theory or ideology of progress for mankind, regardless of whether the theory was based on science, religion, or a positivist philosophy (what he referred to as “monist” philosophies). Instead, he believed that humanity progressed through history by making choices between alternatives, such as good and evil, and that all individual choices have consequences–for the individual and for society. He believed that we progressed when we made choices that built upon the best of the foundations and traditions of the society we had inherited, rather than try to rest progress on new and clever theories that departed from such traditions.
Frost believed that Western man was the beneficiary of choices that had created a civilization that marched northwestward from the Middle East to North America over the course of more than two millennia. What separated this civilization from the others that developed in different eras, or different regions, were the principles it learned, and to which it committed itself, through the choices that individuals had made.
Frost believed that each individual was comprised of, and driven by the spirit of the soul and the matter of the body. He deeply believed that the spirit was the dominant of the two forces, and that the principles of Christian faith were fundamental to nourishing the soul. In the end, he believed it was the correct nourishment of the soul that leads to making the right choices in the life of each individual, and that those right choices collectively lead to historical progress.
Over the years, three poems of his have touched me, because I believe they each speak to the choices we face, the decisions we make, the consequences we accept over the course of a lifetime. Each of these poems conveys a similar imagery of the speaker contemplating the edge of a wood or forest. They first were published over a 14-year period, each seven years apart, starting in 1909. The first poem, one of his first published works, appeared in New England Magazine in 1909, under the title Into Mine Own. The second poem, The Road Not Taken, first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1916. The third poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, was first published in The New Republic magazine in 1923.
Into My Own (originally, Into Mine Own)
One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as ‘twere, the merest mask of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom.
I should not be withheld but that some day
Into their vastness I should steal away,
Fearless of ever finding open land,
Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.
I do not see why I should e’er turn back,
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here
And long to know if still I held them dear.
They would not find me changed from him they knew—
Only more sure of all I thought was true.
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Soon, very soon, it will be time again to face some choices and make decisions about our party and our country that will have far-reaching consequences for our families, our schools, our churches, our places of work, our communities, our states, and our country. Even after yesterday’s setbacks, I still firmly believe that one person, or one group of people, committed to positive ideas, can change the world for the better. Such positive change rarely comes through revolution, which destroys more than it changes. Instead, such positive change usually results from sustained effort to change one person, one family, and one community at a time, and to help them down a new path. Soon enough people join the journey that the momentum of society shifts, and the new path becomes the agent of real and lasting change.
Each of us is capable of being one of those people who starts the new journey down the right path. We have done that type of work all of our lives with our families, our friends, our work, and our community activities. But to make the right decisions that lead to the right change in path, you have to see the woods in front of you clearly, and commit to follow the right path through them, even when others choose another wrong path.
Soon there will be no more time; our society is at the edge of the “woods.” We will have to choose a path that will affect our society for generations—including our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. When that time comes, we conservatives will have to choose the right path and work hard to lead our countrymen on that right journey.
For now, rest and reflect.