What Comes After After?

Dear Hope Nation,

Back on March 15, when Hope closed for the first time because of COVID concerns, I started writing daily letters to you. Over the next three months, I wrote 120 letters. If you’re interested, you can find them here on the Hope website. While you’re there, you can also find online meeting lists, the cell phone number of every Hope staff member and a variety of other useful information. (You can also find them here on my own website, along with relatively terrible poetry, first chapters of a few novels, and more than you’d ever want to know about life in a tiny white box five miles from the Canadian border.)

The controlling image in those letters was that we had left the Land of Before and the pandemic time through which we sailed was the Sea of During. Along with this, of course, was the understanding that we’d someday arrive at a Land of After. On July 15, I announced our arrival in After and we began the disembarkment. In my mind, we would now explore and create After.

Oh, what a silly man I am.

We’ve climbed back onto the ship and embarked across yet another During. Whether the After we’ve left was merely an outer island of the land of After, or whether we’ll be on this ship for the winter, I don’t know, you don’t know and God himself only knows. He alone can answer the question

What comes after After?

Regardless, we are back on the boat, and the words from the beginning of our last voyage still ring true today, even if they were written by a pompous clown who didn’t know this passage would involve layovers. From March:

Today we sail the Sea of During, having set sail from Before. Our trip across During is not just uncharted but would have been nearly unimaginable last month. Other than survivalists, few of us dreamed During even existed—until we found ourselves gone from Before, the knowledge slowly dawning that we’d never said goodbye; in fact, we’d never even known we lived in Before.

Before is behind us. During offers the only route to After. Unlike a journey from Spain to the New World, though, traveling from Before to After isn’t simply a matter of arriving and discovering. Columbus sailed looking for copper and ended up finding gold, but that’s because the gold was already there, buried in the ground. Instead, it is how we enact our journey to After that will determine the copper, the gold or the wasteland we will find there. Columbus didn’t know what he’d find when he set sail, and neither do we. Columbus’ journey, though, didn’t determine destination—ours does. Let me try to explain.

None of us knows how wide the lake or ocean of During is. We can’t guess how long we will be locked in our cabins or, better, our individual boats lashed together by history, by circumstances, by the universe. If on our journey across During we are kind, considerate, gentle, loving and lighthearted, we will discover an After where these things are valued and encouraged. Likewise, if our journey values selfishness, blame, shame, anger and deceit, that is the After we will discover, for that is what we will have created.

On this journey we test drive the philosophical system on which to build our After.  If we search the history of Before, we can find justification for an inhuman utilitarian model.  From Robespierre (or Napoleon or Lenin, depending upon whom you believe) we have, “You’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet.” From Machiavelli the same sentiment “The ends justify the means.” In both, we find the greater good, as defined of course by the speaker, outweighing the value of the individual or commonplace ethics. This “greater good” always fails to define either “greater” or “good.”

On the other hand, our journey can be person-centered, ethical and joyful. We can be the action we want, we can model forgiveness, we can stretch out our arms to the world while maintaining a six-foot distant. We can know the means are the ends, what and how we live the journey determines where we will arrive.

Today I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite authors. Please sew it into pillows, write it on your lintels, engrave it on your heart.

“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”—Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Followed by a quote from one of my favorite songwriters:

Don’t let us get sick
Don’t let us get old
Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
Just make us be brave
And make us play nice
And let us be together tonight
—Don’t Let Us Get Sick
Warren Zevon

Amen and amen and amen.

Be kind. Make us play nice. And remember.

You matter. I matter. We matter.


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