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Leaving Room for Hope

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on the Scenic Route

Hope is a vital thing. It springs eternal in the human breast, for one thing; which keeps us moving between disasters. It’s central to Paul’s “Big Three” in 1 Corinthians 13—faith, hope and love, of which he says the greatest is love, but love without hope is something to be suffered, and faith without hope is simply resignation. I think the three approach equity, in spite of what Paul says.

It’s not the first time I have disagreed with him.

In last month’s column, “Wake Up America,” I did manage to leave a little room for hope, even in pointing out that our country may be in the worst trouble it has ever been in. We have a festering economy. Many of our more well-to-do delude themselves with a sense of entitlement, ignoring the poor and marginalized. We place huge importance on illusory spectacles and celebrity. We suffer a complacent citizenry; numerous examples of increasingly and wantonly kleptocratic leadership; and a crumbling infrastructure we can’t afford to fix. Our descent into this state bears an earmark of the collapse of every great empire that ever melted down: we are rotting from the core out.

So, what do I find hopeful? Small things. Incremental things. Subtle things.

I read letters to the editor in several newspapers in small and large communities, for instance, and I’ve noticed that their tenor has been changing. There is less blaming and more suggested solutions. There is more about working together to solve problems and less about who is the cause. It feels like we’ve hit a wall and bounced off, and are starting to pick ourselves up and get reoriented. The good news here is that although we are a mess, we have survived the collision.

Call me an optimist.

There was also a small incident in the past month that called me to be more hopeful and it actually caused me to start looking for other hopeful signs. I went to a rodeo.

Rodeos have been the all-American spectacle since real cowboys roamed the earth, and the money machine that the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association has become has pushed them to a new pinnacle of spectacularity, if you will forgive me a word. I note this because the rodeo in question was my second of the summer, and before that, it had been a decade since I watched grown men throw themselves off of perfectly good horses and climb upon perfectly bad ones in search of glory, fame and belt buckles sure to rub their navels raw.

My sensibilities have changed somewhat in that decade. Even though I still appreciate a good ride, I find myself cheering for animals that get away, and cringing at the violence dispensed by the bucking stock. At my first rodeo of the summer, I was impressed by the continued failure of the cowboys—and cowgirls—to get control of the critters they were supposed to be roping, wrestling and riding. The critters were winning!

I love cheering for an underdog, even if it is a cow, and the cattle and horses won that rodeo walking—and running and bucking—away. The bull who did finally get ridden—in spectacular fashion—got even by refusing to leave the arena for 15 minutes after his rider’s eight seconds of fame. The creatures won the contest by a huge margin, 76-15.

The second rodeo was a bit more even, and the humans won by a small margin, as they usually do. But that’s not the point. The point is—or was—the reaction of the crowd at the second rodeo to a comment made by the announcer.

We are sitting in the middle of a rodeo—a sport populated and followed by a primarily conservative group of humans—in the middle of one of the most conservative counties that I know of. (Guess which one, if you like. You might be right and you might not.) The announcer and a half-dozen girls in sprayed-on jeans and tight, fringed blouses carrying various flags and riding very fast horses have gotten the crowd going, and we are approaching the national anthem. Back a decade ago, this used to take about eight minutes. Now it takes about 30, for it is also opportunity to promote the next few PRCA rodeos on the schedule and mention the rodeo sponsors a few dozen times.

Ah, commercialism, how I love thee.

Anyway, it is veteran appreciation night, and the cowgirls’ horses and the cowgirls on them are all standing at attention in the middle of the arena with the American flag at the center, and the announcer is going on about the sacrifices made by our soldiers in wars current and past, and the crowd is right with him, as well they might be. This is one of the thousands of places large and small that our soldiers go to war from and come back to. There are scores of American veterans of a half-dozen wars in the stands, some in wheelchairs, some wearing their service on their sleeves, some you’d never suspect ever left the county. There are families and friends who waited and sweated it out while they were gone. There are those who remember the ones who didn’t come home. And, there is every spectrum of political thought contained in all of those people, although I will admit that it sure as hell was not a liberal arts gathering. And, that, I suppose, is why what happened next made such an impression on me.

The announcer says proudly, “I watch Fox News. How many of you watch Fox News?”

There were about 2,500 people in the stands that night. Maybe 50 cheered in response to his question—about two percent. The rest of the crowd sort of drew back, and got quiet.

A few minutes later, though, we sang The Star Spangled Banner. The woman who was supposed to lead us got befuddled and plumb forgot the words, and the rest of us had to remind her, which we did—with gusto. And then the roping, riding and wrestling commenced. But what I remember best about that night, as a semi-liberal in the middle of conservative America, is that momentary pause at the announcer’s question and the way we all stepped up and sang the national anthem for the woman who forgot the words.

Why do I find that hopeful? It seems to me there are a bunch of people out there who still love this country, even enough to serve her in her follies; and it is a slim minority who are listening to the blamers and shouters and nay-sayers and Chicken Littles who populate much of our popular media. It confirmed somewhat something I have suspected for a time: that the general populace of this country—“the great silent majority,” as Tricky Dick Nixon called us—are a lot closer together in our beliefs than certain portions of the media would have us believe.

There might be enough of us to fix this country yet.

The last, but not least, hopeful thing that I wish to impress upon you is this. In all of history, there has never been a civilization, a culture, a country or an empire that survived where we are now. The Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans—all are ancient history. But Americans are good at doing things for the first time. Of all the cultures that have risen over the centuries, I believe we have the best chance of survival. I’m not sure what the odds are, and I don’t think they are really great, but Americans are good at beating the odds, particularly when we work together.

And, we have some work to do. We can’t do it running scared. We can’t do it without sacrifice. We can’t do it alone. We can’t do it if we concentrate on our differences. We can’t do it without our children’s help. And, we can’t do it if we don’t get started. I have great hope that we will.

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Author info

Sandy Compton Sandy Compton Sandy Compton is one of the original contributors to The River Journal, and owner and publisher at Blue Creek Press (www.bluecreekpress.com). His latest book is Side Trips From Cowboy: Addiction, Recovery and the Western American Myth

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Hope, The Scenic Route, state of the union, rodeo, The Star Spangled Banner

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