Yesterday morning, Pastor Walter Mitty woke up feeling something like sadness. He thought about it as he was getting dressed and decided that melancholy was the best word he could think of to describe his troubled spirit.
He turned up the heat in the parsonage kitchen and took a few swallows of the leftover Dunkin Donuts iced coffee he had put in the fridge the day before. Coffee always seemed to brighten his mood a little.
As he pondered his internal lack of serenity, he felt his phone vibrating in his pocket. It was his next door neighbor, Michael Rosenthal.
“It’s Michael, Walt. You doing anything tomorrow evening?”
“No, as a matter of fact. Have anything in mind?”
“Nothing in particular. I’m just feeling kind of blue. Ruth has been gone for over 10 years, but especially during the holidays I still miss her. Are you up for walking over to the Retro and maybe planning something?”
As they leisurely strolled the three blocks to Zaphne’s store and coffee shop, Michael talked about the feelings that flooded over him.
“Walt, you know how they picture the New Year as a baby? Like January 1 is supposed to be a time to start over with a sense that the future is full of possibilities?”
Michael chuckled and said, “This may sound silly, but last Saturday I tried to make myself feel better by getting my menorah out, lighting the candles and putting on a CD of Christmas music.”
It was Pastor Walt’s turn to chuckle. “Pretty ecumenical of you, Michael.”
“Maybe, but it backfired. The third song on the album was ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,’ and when Sinatra sang ‘through the years we all will be together if the fates allow,’ I broke down.”
When they walked into the Retro, Zaphne greeted them with a polite “Happy New Year” but without her usual wink and affectionate smile. The two sat down with their caramel lattes. Noticing that Zaphne’s “music” didn’t match her “lyrics,” Michael asked, “Are you OK?”
“It shows, huh?” was Zaphne’s reply.
“So what’s going on?”
“Well,” Zaphne drew a deep breath, “I find myself feeling angry these last few days every time I talk to anyone over 40.”
The two friends looked into their coffee cups trying to hide their discomfort.
“See, you guys had your big crusade. You were inspired by Dr. King’s dream, and you each did your own little thing to make a difference. It’s not perfect now, but it’s a lot better. But in the meantime, your generation screwed up the environment so badly that my generation might not be able to put the toothpaste back in the tube, so to speak, and on top of that it will take me until I’m your age before my college debt is paid off.”
Zaphne left the two men to serve another customer. Michael shook his head and said, “Does anyone have hope for the future these days?”
Mitty suddenly realized why he was feeling out of sorts. He had heard pundits on the news predicting that the whole impeachment spectacle might unintentionally help Trump win a second term. And he realized that not feeling in control of the future was often the reason he would get depressed.
“Henry dropped into my office last Saturday,” Pastor Walt found himself saying.
“You mean homeless Henry?”
“Yeah. Well, I asked him how he was doing and he told me he was doing great. When I asked how he could feel great when he had been homeless for over a year and there were no prospects in sight that he would get off the streets, he said that Sammy the Squirrel told him 2020 was going to be the year when his ship would come in and everything would be OK.”
“Sammy the Squirrel told him that?”
“I know. I know. But Michael, I do wonder sometimes if you have to be a little crazy to feel optimistic in these times, when everything seems to be falling apart.”
After pondering that, Michael asked, “Doesn’t St. Paul say something about hope and the future in one of his letters?”
Mitty searched his memory for a few seconds and replied, “You mean that passage where he says we are saved by hope and the hope that is seen is not hope? Like hope is a way of walking into the future, even when so-called reality makes you want to despair?”
“Yeah, that’s the one,” Michael answered. After draining the rest of his latte, he asked, “So, Pastor Mitty, how do you pull that off?”
Tom Holmes writes a column twice-monthly for our sister publication, the Forest Park Review.