The Struggle for the Soul of America: It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn

(My remarks at a solstice gathering a few nights ago)

Two Hundred and Forty-five years ago this week just after the winter solstice on December 23, 1776, Thomas Paine wrote:

“These are the times that try men’s souls… Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value.”

Paine was with George Washington and the Continental Army when they were defeated at White Plains and Forts Washington and Lee in October and November of that year.  Washington’s troops retreated across NJ and into PA. Many were without shoes and sufficient clothing to protect them from the freezing winter. The dejected Continental Army then huddled along the west bank of the Delaware River on the verge of defeat.

But Washington was not about to give up. On Christmas night, December 25, 1776, the General led his ragged army across the icy Delaware River and embarked on a ten-mile march to Trenton, NJ, where they surprised and overcame 1500 enemy troops. A week later, they again prevailed at Princeton. It was a pivotal point that led to the defeat of the British and the birth of our nation.

87 years later, on Nov. 19, 1863, after one of bloodiest battles in our history, in the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln declared at Gettysburg: “that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Now, recalling how our foremothers and forefathers persevered and overcame great diversity so that American democracy might be born and grow, once again our collective survival as a free people is being tested.

We are again in times that try men’s and women’s souls. We are being challenged to the utmost by the COVID pandemic, right-wing voter suppression, a fascist ex-president’s attempt to overthrow our government and global climate change.

So, as the winter solstice ushers in the radiance of the approaching new year, we have the opportunity, perhaps you might say, the duty, to open our hearts and spread the light of peace and love to all our relations, and to contribute whatever we are able, to the work of overcoming this pandemic, protecting our planet Earth and preserving our democratic way of life.

May this begin tonight with each of us.

Bruce Berlin

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