How the News Tried To Make Me a Cynic…and Failed

How the News Tried To Make Me a Cynic…and Failed September 25, 2014

“It is better to light a candle to than to curse the darkness.”

– Anonymous

“C’mon. Give it to me. Just one more time.”, he chided.

“Not again,” I came back.

“Just go on. Give me the list. Is it ten? Fifteen? More?”

And then, with my level-best self-deprecation, I would begin to count. And list. My friend knew that things had not changed. In fact, he reveled in it. I was a news junkie. And it was out of control.

The list of my active subscriptions went something like this: The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, National Review, The Weekly Standard, The New Criterion, The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, The London Review of Books, The Economist, Foreign Affairs, The Finest Hour (from the Churchill Centre), Commentary, Newsweek, Time, The Week…and then there were the “off the rack” subscriptions which means those I bought nearly monthly and, in fact, amounted to a more expensive version of a subscription since I paid full price and had to travel to the store to by them (this, I would would wryly dub, the “insult AND injury subscription program”). This list included: Foreign Policy, The Claremont Review of Books, The American Interest, National Interest, World Affairs, Standpoint (when available), Critical Review. Let us, also, not forget the internet perusal of The New Yorker, Vanity Fair (especially when Christopher Hitchens was around), The New York Times Magazine and Book Review, and National Affairs.

And this is not even including my subscriptions over the years to religious/theological journals including First Things, America, Commonweal, Logos, Communio, Gilbert Magazine, The Chesterton Review, Touchstone, New Oxford Review, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, and a journal on Flannery O’Connor (the name escapes me, unfortunately). I still – with brazen incorrigibility – aspire to get Dappled Things, St. Austin Review and Second Spring.

*Sigh*

If one is crudely statistical about this, I could spend  twelve hours a day, every day, just sitting and reading these eagerly anticipated and gingerly handled periodicals and never come close to finishing them. But, as I am wont to say of statistics, “Bah!”.

And so I would skip, gleefully, to my mailbox each day awaiting the sweet drop-off by my friendly neighborhood mailman [who must have by then (and likely still does) wondered, “What’s up with this guy?”] only to return to my house to eagerly anticipate the latest C-SPAN Senate subcommittee meeting on homeland security or the twenty-first debate of the presidential primary season.

And you wonder why my friend ribs me.

But there came a point when I had to say, “Enough.” No it wasn’t that my checks began to bounce or that my wife gave me “the look” which reminds all husbands that no matter what we might say on this particular issue, we’re wrong (which, of course, I admit I am) or that the producers of “Hoarders” were knocking on my door to film a new episode. No, it was due none of these reasons.

Instead, it was because there was always something wrong in all of this coverage. Some outrage. Some injustice. Some idiocy. Some oversight. To use one overwrought phrase, it was a perpetual “parade of horribles”. And the impression given from journal to journal (and news show, committee hearing, or debate) was that this or that particular dark issue needed to be dissected, snarky or self-righteous outrage had to be voiced, and a ridiculously hazy sentiment or frustratingly rigid ten-point plan had to be enumerated for swift action (which would never be taken). Why would it never be taken? Because, in the end, the person who wrote the article wasn’t that invested in solving the problem. Only in celebrating it. My wife dubs a similar practice in her business as “wing-flapping”. It gives every impression of earnest attempts to fly…without every flying. Instead, it is reveling in a futile process that is noisy, distracting and exhausting while calling to all around, “I’m flying! I’m flying!”.

The point is that I could become and did become rather fluent in the events of the day. Only it made me a bit cynical and depressed. Nowadays, everyone is a muckracker, everywhere there is injustice, and everyday requires the long climb up the hill to fight another fight. Now let me be clear, I am not arguing that there is no evil, hardship and injustice in the world. Sadly, there is plenty. Even further, I would not jettison all writing/reporting that informs and spurs us to improve the lot of humanity. But this is not all that humanity is. We were not designed to constantly look in the mirror…to rend our garments and spit at it. We are called to receive the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. We are designed to cultivate the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and courage. The devil is constantly reminding us, “You are a lousy, unworthy creation.” Whereas God is, instead, calling us, “Though imperfect, you are redeemable and called to achieve great things in my name.” Neither of these voices neglects our shortcomings, but one sees us through to greater ends. The other tempts us to wallow in the inky blackness of our sin.

In the world of sports this month, we have seen the dark domestic abuse of Ray Rice and the violent punishment by Adrian Peterson. We have seen child-like fingerpointing and calls for the head of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. But did we miss that extraordinary news that Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly was declared in remission after a taxing battle with squamous cell carcinoma. My wife showed me this picture of Kelly and his teenage daughter when in the throes of treatment, and as a father considering my own daughters, it nearly moved me to tears. Kelly said,

 “I am so thankful for the support and prayers of my family, my friends near and far…Most of all, I want to thank God. Without my faith and God’s constant presence, there would be no such thing as ‘Kelly Tough.'”

In the world of politics this month, there has been blame-shifting and finger pointing over ISIS and Syria, Russia and Ferguson. But a seventy-seven year old newsman (of the original kind), Bob Schieffer, offered a moment of clarity about something oft ignored, if not scoffed at, in trendy political circles: the virtue of courage.

“As I watched the documentary on PBS this week about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and their cousin Teddy, I couldn’t help but think about what set them apart from today’s politicians. Yes, they were very smart but there are still a lot of smart people in Washington. Yes, they saw wrongs that needed to be corrected. But we still have those with good hearts, and yes they were good politicians but we still have a few good politicians around here. What set them apart to my mind was their courage. When they saw wrong, they not only tried to make it right, but they did so with no guarantee of success. What a glaring contrast to the Washington of today which spends most of its time doing nothing and the rest of its time devising schemes to avoid responsibility for anything. The latest example: when congress approved arming the Syrian rebels, they stuck the legislation in a bill that also provided money to keep the government from shutting down. That way, if arming the rebels turns out to be a debacle, members can say, ‘I was never for arming the rebels, I just voted to prevent a government shutdown.’ The Roosevelt documentary was 14 hours long spread over seven nights. A story about the courage of today’s Washington would take about 30 minutes-at most.”

And this month, in my life, a dear older friend died. One who suffered his own maladies, but never failed to smile, laugh and ask earnestly about my daughters. Comments under his on-line obituary read,

[You] meant so much to us over the years. [You] toook Charlie, my brother Dan and myself to the auto races in Elko years ago. At the end of the Star-Spangled Banner, which is always played pre-race, [you] yelled out “Play Ball”, which for a nine-year-old was the funniest thing I had ever heard. [You] played a big part in my recovery. [Your] wise words and advice will never be forgotten.

&

My dear friend, I miss you so much. I treasure the tutorials about Irish History while in the boat in Canada fishing and as the lowly apprenctice learning the finer points of fish from the master. In our conversations, if I made a joke or comment with a historical or literary allusion, you always came back with the appropriate zinger. God, but what a void you leave.

&

 Simply a good man and a great Grandfather.

You see, these stories, these lives, are not the common currency of all the subscriptions I had (with the exception of the theological ones). And yet, these are the ones that matter. These are the stories that edify, that embolden, that grapple with suffering and loss, yet encourage me to keep going. Sure, at times they make me wistful and sad, but by the grace of God, they also make me smile. And keep moving forward. I have cancelled most of my subscriptions and watch less TV. Oh, mind you I still pay attention, shake my head and occasionally my fist. I will never stop caring. But I won’t be cynical. I won’t believe that we are irretrievable failures. I can’t believe we are beyond redemption. After all, in a world of Peters and Pauls, there’s got to be some hope for us Tods too. There’s darkness out there. And plenty of it. But now…now I am more interested in lighting and finding the candles. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

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