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Letters of note

It’s that time of the year again where the whole world seems to be banging on about new year resolutions and bettering yourself.  It puts me in mind of the author of Charlotte’s Web, E B White’s quotation: “I get up every morning determined both to change the world and have one hell of a good time.  Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.” Quite so.

And of course if you do decide that it would be good to change the world, even if only a little bit of it and by a modest measure, you can’t help but feel if you look at the media that rather a lot of the world could do with a bit of changing.  If you believe the gloom-merchants in some areas of the media you really would think that we should hibernate for a decade or so.
 
Well this won’t do at all, of course, and especially not if you are dealing with teenagers who deserve to know that (i) no-one is supposed to be perfect and (ii) the world is not quite the basket case you might be led to believe.  That said, it’s not much good for you to think so if you’re 57 either!
 
I shared the following letter with the school on the first Monday of term. I found it in a book called Letters of Note, a collection of letters from famous folk to various recipients. I liked it a lot and so wanted to share it more widely.
 
                                                                                     North Brooklin, Maine
                                                                                     30 March 1973

 
Dear Mr. Nadeau:                   
 
As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.
 
Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society – things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.
 
Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.
 
                                                                                                         Sincerely,
                                                                                                E. B. White  
 
This letter from E B White was written in reply to his correspondent, a clearly anxious Mr Nadeau, in 1973. I was 12. I can’t remember at all what ghastly things we might all have been frightened about then all those years ago (although I do remember watching the wedding of The Princess Royal and Mark Philips on my neighbour’s colour television and I believe Liverpool FC were crowned league champions). I discovered, after some gentle internet research of the year, that in America, where Mr Nadeau was busy worrying about the state of the world, there was the horrific Hanafi Muslim Massacre and in New Orleans, the killing of nine people, including five policemen by Mark Essex. We were of course also still deep, deep in the Cold War. So, as ever, there were reasons to be worried or concerned about the state of the world and it’s enough to make us suspicious of nostalgia. For the social historians amongst you, later that same year, President Nixon was sworn in for a his second term and the first handheld cellular call was made in New York.  
 
I hope E B White’s letter cheers you as it did me.  I like the idea that “as long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman the contagion may spread” almost as much as I like “as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right”. Certainly, I don’t think we are doing our job as adults, whether mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, or grown-up children if we do not ensure that as far as we are able we aim to create the right conditions for the next generation to sprout, and so to thrive.
 
Happy New Year to one and all. I’m off to sprout…
Tagged Reflection