And so ends the most vicious election cycle in my lifetime.
Thank God it’s over.
Now, fear not, gentle reader. I’m not going to write a political post. Yes, I am sorely tempted (for the first time in a long time), but I’ll abstain. Instead, I want to talk about heroes.
A Heroic Ideal?
Yes, heroes. Because it seems clear to me that the world is suffering through a complete loss of faith in the possibility of heroes. And no, not superheroes or bogatyrs (that’s still a cool painting though, isn’t it?). I mean actual, human beings capable of heroism.
It’s a strange time. The intelligent and generous-hearted liberals among my friends are capable of incredible hatred for people who simply see the world through a different lens. But at the same time, many so-called Christian friends are also more remarkable for their hatreds than their loves. Idealism is laughed at. The elites consider patriotism no better than 19th-century-style nationalism. Simple, uncomplicated faith? Hard to find.
In this world, such an election is not only possible, but inevitable.
That’s why what happened after Trump won surprised me so much. It actually left me with more than a little hope. I’m talking about the reactions of the two candidates.
- Hillary Clinton, the candidate of the decent and the cultured, didn’t concede the election publicly. Not only that, but she did not even appear publicly to cheer up her tireless supporters, at least to tell them how much they mean to her.
- Trump, the egomaniac, began his first speech by talking about healing divisions. He was understated, seemingly humble, and generous in his thanks to others.
What’s going on?!
I’ve been reading the news. I know what Trump was supposed to do after winning. He was supposed to immediately go all Gestapo on his enemies and promise a hell of a retribution. After all, who’s to stop him? The American people have spoken!!
He, Donald Trump!?!, was gracious and soft-spoken.
No, I’m in no way suggesting that Trump is the hero we all need. Hardly. But he was the one to stretch out a conciliatory hand.
And I will say this. The kind of divisions that we see between the elites and the poor in America is reminiscent of another moment in history–the reign of Peter the Great and everything that followed. The bitter separation of the French-speaking, Westernized elite and the salt of the earth common-folk eventually led to the bloodiest revolution and civil war (possibly) in history.
No one could bridge that gap, though many tried.
The Great Divide
But our situation is not so bad, believe me. Let me tell you about those supposedly racist, misogynist, sexist people who voted for Trump. My wife and I live in Mohawk Valley, NY, a region second only to Appalachia in terms of economic depression. Once I was on my way to New York, waiting for a Chinese bus (don’t ask) to take me from Herkimer to NYC. It was 11:30 pm at the 24 hour Walmart.
I was stranded by the Chinese bus (which eventually arrived an hour and a half after they were supposed to) with a small suitcase in the middle of winter.
Every single person who passed me came up to me, smiled, and asked if they could drive me where I needed to go.
Ask anyone who knows. Those disgusting people who are supposedly going to spell the end of civilization as we know it are hardworking and decent people. Many of them treasure family and faith. Many would give the shirt off their back if they needed to.
So, to quote Chernyshevsky… (wait, did I just quote Chernyshevsky?)
Now is the time for every one of us to become the hero we need. How? Actually, it’s not so hard.
Here’s my four-step formula:
1. Serve your family
Become the best husband, wife, father, mother, sister you can be. Put your own needs on the back burner, and become a servant to theirs.
2. Serve your next door neighbors
Seek out ways to make your neighbors’ lives better. Even if it’s just to bake them a pie, for goodness’ sake. Or to knock on their door and ask how they’re doing. What about the poor in your area? Can you alleviate their difficulties in any way?
3. Serve your parish
Give your time to clean your local church. Help your priest or pastor with small things like car repairs or grocery shopping. If you can, do some hard, manual labor for an old person or for your priest (see the painting of St. Sergius above). Donate your time to watch a local mother’s three kids for half an hour, so she can at least take a shower (believe me, you’ll be doing a really, really good deed).
4. Become saints
If you haven’t already, read The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios. It describes a man who battled with forces of evil on such a scale, and with such power, that it all sounds too fairy-tale to be true. But Elder Paisios is not large, muscle-bound, or handsome. He’s a short, hairy, funny-looking old man who is more ridiculous than inspiring to the eye.
But he’s a hero, and one of the most well-loved and well-known figures in Orthodox Christian circles today. And it’s precisely his humility and love and self-effacement that is the source of his incredible strength. That’s the kind of hero we need to aspire to become.
Yes, that kind of hero is a saint. But really, that’s really the essence of Christianity. To make mere, fallen men into saints. It can happen. It should happen.
So enough recriminations, wailing, gloating, and triumphalism. Let’s all become saints instead!