-GAINS & GLEANINGS-
By J. Hogan
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s "Uncle Tom’s Cabin," Upton Sinclair’s "The Jungle," John Steinbeck’s "Grapes of Wrath," and Tom Brokaw’s "The Greatest Generation" are four books about eras spanning roughly a century.
Only Brokaw survives, having written his book as a retrospective rather than a contemporaneous work, and I don’t know if he’s on social media, but if he is, I wonder what he makes of this era and its gripes.
All four of the aforementioned books, three novels and a historical non-fiction work, focused on extremely tough times for parts of our nation’s populace in the past.
Stowe’s book rallied folks to more overtly oppose chattel slavery and its cruelties, hastening its end.
Sinclair’s novel took on the abuses of 20-hour workdays and minuscule pay including torturous child labor practices, rallying support for child labor laws, unionization and fair labor practices as the Industrial Revolution rolled into the 20th Century.
Steinbeck wrote of the suffering of the Depression Era Dust Bowl, and the dashed dreams of unwelcome newcomers fleeing it for what they hoped would be a better life.
Brokaw told the harrowing tales of men and women, mostly in their late teens and early twenties, who fought the bloody battles of Europe and the Pacific Islands during World War II.
All of these eras were painful, laden with trauma and deprivation, and truly unimaginable to most of today’s Americans.
Comedian Louis C. K. told a story on Conan O’Brien’s show years ago about the man next to him on a plane complaining about the Wi-Fi connection breaking down, observing that the man was hurtling through the air in a pressurized tube, and “only found out 10 minutes ago that in-flight Wi-Fi was a thing and now he’s entitled to it!”
New Steelers senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach Brian Flores is suing the NFL for racism because he was passed over for the head coaching job with the New York Giants after errantly receiving a congratulatory text intended for the coach who did get hired. Flores, now 40, was hired by the Miami Dolphins as their Head Coach at the age of 38, skipping over the oft-required stint as an offensive or defensive coordinator to become a team’s top coach.
It was likely painful to be let go from Miami after three mediocre seasons and a difficult personal relationship with the owner. It wasn’t, however, working 20 hours in a coal mine each day to be paid a pittance in company script redeemable only at the company store, nor was it starving after nine feet of dust swept over the acreage upon which his family had been eeking out a meager existence.
Now, of course, today’s difficulties are real. For us. But comparing COVID-19 mortality and mask requirements to the daily cries of “Bring out your dead” from the horse-drawn wagons of Europe during the Black Death doesn’t make much sense as a comparison. What those folks suffered through is mind-boggling to us.
We can’t grasp the horror.
Many of our daily complaints, in perspective, are minor. We live in a coddled, soft time.
That’s nice and I’m not complaining about it. Lord knows it’s more pleasant to live in a time when most of our travails wouldn’t rate as hiccups for those who lived in harder times.
The late comedian Mitch Hedberg made a joke with an apt analogy for much of today’s griping when he said, “An escalator can never break: it can only become stairs.
You should never see an ‘Escalator Temporarily Out of Order’ sign, just one that says ‘Escalator Temporarily Stairs.’ Sorry for the convenience.”
Rev. James Hogan is a native of Stowe Township and serves as pastor of Faithbridge Community Church.