Looking on the Bright Side

by W.D. Ehrhart

I’ve just had a new experience.  For the first time since I began writing essays for the New Hampshire Gazette, I finally submitted one so unrelievedly pessimistic that our Alleged Editor rejected it, declining to inflict so bleak and hopeless an argument predicting the all-but-inevitable re-election of Dolt .45 next November with no way to avoid that outcome except through divine intervention.

Well, fair enough.  He’s not only the editor, but also the publisher and owner of the Gazette.  He gets to print what he wants and not print what he doesn’t want.  And he’s obligated to consider his readership’s sensibilities.  Who wants to read something that says, “We’re all screwed and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

And it’s not like my work hasn’t been rejected by editors hundreds and hundreds of times over the past fifty years.  And most editors don’t do it as gently and politely as our Alleged Editor did.

Nevertheless, this got me thinking.  Indeed, it became a challenge.  Can I write something that isn’t utter doom-and-gloom?  Not easy to do in these times of political insanity, endless war, and global warming.  But not impossible.

My wife and I both belong to Twelve Step Programs; not the same one, but similar enough to share a few things.  One of them is the Serenity Prayer.  We often recite it together while facing each other and holding hands because both of us find the times we are living in fraught with much to be depressed about.

We’ve modified our version, however, adding a new last line of our own composition: “Grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, the wisdom to know the difference, and the eyes to see what’s good.

As disturbing as the news is on a daily basis, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that there is still a lot of good in the world.  An abundance of good.  A cornucopia of riches worth celebrating and reveling in.

For starters, the newspaper you are reading right now is a prime example.  In the midst of corporate media as partisan entertainment and apologists for how things are, here’s this little shoe-string operation that insists ordinary people can make a difference and we don’t have to accept the way things are.

But that’s just for starters.  Here where I live, we’ve got a very thoughtful progressive Democrat named Tim Briggs representing us in the state legislature in Harrisburg. He’s been hog-tied for over a decade by a lower chamber dominated by Republicans who, like the rest of their ilk, have drifted farther and farther toward the MAGA-right.

My wife and I often attend his “breakfast town meetings,” and we’ve been in awe of his resilience and refusal to walk away from public life.  And in the 2022 election, for the first time in a dozen years, the Democrats gained a slim majority in the Pennsylvania Assembly, and Briggs can actually get something done.

This past June, Lower Merion Township, where we live, just passed an ordinance banning single-use carry-out plastic bags and requiring most retailers to charge ten cents for paper bags, thus encouraging customers to bring their own reusable bags.  Mom’s Organic Market, where we do most of our grocery shopping, sells all organic and as often as possible only local produce, and they’ve installed two free electric car chargers in their parking lot, and they’ve got a sign on the door that says: “If you can’t be polite, shop somewhere else.”

Recently, my Thompson Bradley Philadelphia Area Veterans for Peace Chapter 31 donated $1,000 to an agency providing relief and support for civilian victims of the war in Ukraine.  That was nearly half of our available funds.

Last Sunday, Grant Ament, one of my former students who is now a star player in the professional Premier Lacrosse League, comped me a ticket to their 2023 championship game, and I watched him and his Archers LC win an exciting 15-14 victory over the Waterdogs.  Ament racked up two goals and an assist, and I got to sit with two other former students of mine who’d been classmates of Ament’s at the Haverford School for Boys.

In a few days, my veteran-poet-friend Dale Ritterbusch will arrive from Wisconsin for a week’s visit, something we’ve been doing annually for nearly thirty years.  Just this morning, I saw a blue jay perched on a branch right outside my window as a chipmunk scurried across our condo’s courtyard.  And I’m about to garnish my sliced bananas with honey from the beehives my daughter and her partner started keeping in their yard a few years ago.

I won’t go so far as Monty Python’s Eric Idle did in the closing scene of The Life of Brian and urge you to “always look on the bright side of life.”  But it’s worth remembering that as lousy as life can often look, there’s usually something to feel good about.  And I’m thankful to our Alleged Editor for prodding me to remember that.


W. D. Ehrhart is a retired Master Teacher of History & English, and author of a Vietnam War memoir trilogy published by McFarland & Co.

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