I vote for wonder.
Amid the mudslinging of political campaigns, despite the reports of all that is going wrong across the world, I vote for joy and amazement at the richness of life.
Many days, I see the sunshine strike the red bricks of the apartment building across the street, and it fills my day with beauty. I am astonished at how green the grass is in my back yard after a rain.
And I am touched by people. Like the woman who, today, reached out to help an elderly man with a walker get off a bus. Or the cop — I saw the TV report, and you probably did, too — who gave brand new boots to a homeless man.
Yes, I know there is much hardship in the world. I know there are people whose lives are disrupted by wars and epidemics and terror. I know there are people who live with very little to eat. I know there are fears of drought and violence, dread of oppression and plague.
I don’t ignore these realities. I recognize the need to face them and solve them to whatever extent is possible.
But I will not let the evils of life frame my experience. I shun cynicism.
Kept keeping on
I vote for wonder and joy and amazement and compassion. And here’s why:
When I was a newspaper reporter in Chicago for more than 30 years, I covered urban affairs and got to know many poor people. Their lives were difficult and often frustrating. But, like all people, they sang. They joked. They loved their families and friends. Some lost their way, true. But most kept on keeping on — and helped each other along the way.
I have been in schools throughout Chicago, and I have seen seven- and eight-year-old children who had no homes. Their families were always moving from one temporary place to another.
Yet, their faces shone with delight as they learned and used the skills of reading. They were afire with the spark of knowledge. They relished their growing understanding of what it means to be a human being.
I saw one class of third-graders visit a home for American military veterans. The veterans who were staying there had clearly had hard times while in service and after returning to civilian life.
But those kids and those veterans sat together in small clusters, two or three kids to a veteran. And, for more than an hour, the veterans talked about their service to our nation — about parachutes and jungle patrols and desert maneuvers. And those kids looked up at the men and women with the widest eyes. They drank it all in. They respected those men and women.
And those veterans knew they were respected.
For the last 30 years, Ben has been cutting my hair. Ben is now 95. He loves cutting hair. He loves the camaraderie with his customers.
Ben has a number tattooed on his arm. He is a survivor of more than two years in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Having lived through the horrors of the Nazi extermination program, Ben has every right to be bitter about humanity. If anyone has the right to look at life from the dark side, it’s Ben.
But Ben chooses wonder. He chooses joy and amazement.
He is amazed that he is still here after all that he has gone through and after nearly a century on this earth. He is joyful in his job. He was a 12-year-old back in Poland when he decided he wanted to be a barber. And he has been able to live that dream for longer than I have been alive.
For Ben and for those children and for those veterans and for anyone who has ever found beauty amidst pain, compassion amidst privation, but, most of all, for myself, I choose wonder.
Patrick T. Reardon
This essay originally appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times on 11.1.2014.