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Jewish World Review March 25, 2003 / 21 Adar II 5763

Bill Tammeus

Bill Tammeus
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In a wounded world, celebrate life's hope | As the world was plunging toward yet another war, we threw a party at my house. It was for my stepdaughter and her husband, who left for two years in the Peace Corps in Africa the night the Iraq war began.

What the party said to everyone who attended is that we refuse to let world events hold our lives hostage. We intend to live, to love, to make commitments and keep them, to act as if we have a future, and a bright one at that.

We are not blindly idealistic. We know harsh reality. We have suffered losses, known grief, felt death's fierce presence. We have been overcome at times with sorrow and pain. But we are determined to keep the light that is our lives - what Shakespeare called our "brief candle" - burning and bringing light to all around us.

So these two young people have headed to Senegal, there to learn what they can and to bring what they know to people who can use such knowledge and wisdom to live fuller lives.

And as they have answered that call to duty, other aspects of our life as a family also speak of the future, even as the world has turned toward war.

My younger daughter, for instance, soon will marry. And we will celebrate with her and her new husband as they begin a life together they hope will include the joys of children. We will hold them close and wish them well and imagine a tomorrow that redeems this time of world angst and threats and blood.

It would be easy for young people to lose hope, to say there is no point in marriage, in parenthood. Day after day they see divorce and unhappiness and children who make terrible choices, who bring themselves and their parents heartache. Young people could soak all that in and decide they want no part of it. And they could make a case for that.

But instead my stepdaughter and her husband have joined the Peace Corps. And my daughter is about to marry a good young man she loves. And my other daughter and her husband already are helping to shape their own daughter, my little grandbaby, teaching her about hope and love and the possibilities she can help create in a world that's desperate for hope and love and possibilities.

Another stepson is finishing his last year in college, preparing himself for a world that needs his brains and creativity and cleverness. He could have chosen to look at the evil in the world - the penchant of people to love darkness more than light - and decide it's worthless to get educated and try to improve things. But he has made a wiser choice.

His brother, meanwhile, has become a dentist and is engaged to a smart young woman. They are planning a life of joy and service together, though they, too, might well have looked about this wounded world and decided to live selfish lives with the goal of protecting themselves from the heartache the world often offers to people who care.

I cannot say now how things will look in Iraq a year from now. Or how they will look on Wall Street or on any Main Street in any country in the world. I just know that part of that future depends on us. Part of what we will become as a world will be the result of the decisions each of us makes today about how to live.

The 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once described an approach to life that all of us would do well to reject: "Life to the great majority is only a constant struggle for mere existence, with the certainty of losing it at last."

Yes, we all will lose our earthly lives in the end. But if we don't commit ourselves to making things better now, to living our lives abundantly, we will lose those lives long before we die. And what good is that?

I don't mean to suggest that individual families somehow can be immune from world events or that we shouldn't care about wars and rumors of wars, about crime and rumors of crime. No, those things inevitably touch us and we must do what we can to affect the larger forces shoving us this way and that.

But we cannot allow ourselves to be undone by the world and its bent to malevolence. We have songs to sing, dances to dance. As for me and my family, we intend to get on with that.

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JWR contributor Bill Tammeus' latest book is "A Gift of Meaning." To order it, please click on title. To comment on his column, please click here.

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Reprinted by permission, The Kansas City Star, Copyright 2002. All rights reserved