Jewish World Review Sept. 7, 2004 / 21 Elul, 5764

David Chartrand

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These are troubled times — I think | These must be troubled times. Republicans and Democrats tell me so. So do liberals and conservatives, patriots and anarchists.

Hardly a politician or preacher opens his mouth without prefacing that he is opening it, "In these troubled times . . ." Or, "In these changing times. . ."

What comes next is some course of action that you and I should abide, owing to these troubled times. Or maybe it's the changing times. I always get those two confused.

There are also "uncertain" times, but I will deal with those later. I have my hands full with trouble and change.

For as long as I can remember, which dates back to April 20 or 21 in 1955, it has gone without saying that my times were troubled or uncertain. Not that this has kept people from saying it over and over again. Do I recall any times that were not considered troubled? I confess I do not.

To be sure, some times clearly have seen trouble. Consider the Punic Wars of the third century, or the fall of Rome, or Genghis Khan's "Bloody Terror" in the 13 th century. Consider the Black Death of the 14 th Century or our own American Civil War. Now those were troubled times. When the dinosaurs were facing extinction from global climate changes 65 million years ago, a pessimistic pterodactyl probably landed on a treetop and warned about "…these troubled times, these changing times." He would have been right.

These times seem less troubled in comparison (assuming no one objects to being compared to a pterodactyl ). Our children attend schools with salad bars in the lunchroom and most of us have more food and electronic gadgets than we deserve. Americans can speak their minds without fear of beheading and Cher is no longer touring, though I am sometimes in the dark about such things. If this is trouble, then bring on the untroubled times.

What, when you get down to it, do most of us in 2004 know of troubled times? Since we rarely hear about good times, how would we recognize the bad ones? Some might say that Americans are such spoiled, whining, unappreciative brats that we haven't a clue what it means to live in tough times. Some, but not me. I come from a long line of spoiled, unappreciative brats and am proud of it.

What we know about trouble is that many folks make a living off it. Pessimists see the worst and want money to ward it off. Fanatics and agitators amass flocks and fortunes peddling gloom and doom. Pessimism breeds fanaticism, or maybe it's the other way around.

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If there were fewer fanatics and opportunists, maybe these times wouldn't sound so troubled. At least we wouldn't be hearing about it all the time. Instead, we'd attend services and hear the homilist say: "My friends, these are good times. What makes these times good is because, well, nothing has changed lately. Everything is pretty much the same as it was a month ago. G-d bless you and now let us sing Hymn Number 453."

It is unlikely, in these troubled times, that such a person could get elected, or hired as a newspaper columnist. Without bad news and woe, no one needs you.

"In times like these," commentator Paul Harvey is alleged to have said, "it helps to recall that there have always been times like these."

It could be, as Mr. Harvey implies, that our times have changed but our troubles have not. Nor have our politicians and preachers, who want us to believe that good times and bad times are the same thing. As for me, I plan to get some other opinions.

JWR contributor David Chartland is a First Place Award winner from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and has been honored by the Society for his humor writing. Enjoy his colums? You'll love his book, author of "A View from the Heartland: Everyday Life in America" (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR).

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© 2004, David Chartrand