Our Future – Hope or Despair?

​In 1897 the New York Sun responded to young Virginia O’Hanlon’s simple question about Santa Claus. She had heard conflicting opinions on the issue of Santa Claus but her Papa had assured her that she could find the truth by asking the paper because, 'If you see it in The Sun, it's so.'
The response to Virginia’s question has become a matter of Christmas folklore, and causes some longing for the better days of the past. But within the response from Francis Church, the editor, we find surprising similarities to our day. The nation at the time was just emerging from a serious multi-year economic depression, and many feared that the great America they had come to love had been lost. Mr. Church used his response to a child’s question about Santa Claus, to address a much larger issue at the time, the issue of hope.
One of my favorite Christmas songs is “I heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” I wonder how many have ever noticed the sorrow in the words. The song began as a poem actually written on Christmas Day in 1864 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. At the time, the civil war was still being fought and the lines of the poem, along with the two stanzas that have since been omitted, indicate the level of sorrow felt by the poet over the conditions in the world. The poem, filled with despair, contains his hope for the future. Almost 150 years later we still share with Longfellow his concern about the lack of Peace on Earth, and like him, we too hope that the “wrong shall fail and the right prevail.”
Like us, Virginia and Longfellow both lived at a time when life was tough, faith was failing, and hope was hard to come by. History is valuable because it reminds us that nothing really changes all that much. We think the times we live in are so bad. We look back on the past and long for the “better days,” failing to recognize that the people of the past didn’t usually see their days as being all that great.
If there is one thing to remember this Christmas season, it is that despair and hope have always been part of the human experience. It falls to us then to decide which of those two will determine our own lives. Are we going to spend our lives, and plan for our future, based on our fears? Or will we cling to the hope for a better tomorrow that shines so brightly at Christmas? As Mr. Church wrote in his response to Virginia, “The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.” It is so easy to see what is wrong with the world, but the message of Christmas reminds us to look for what is right.
The lesson of history teaches us that the future always has, and always will, belong to those who hope. This is true in investing, in our families, and in life. Merry Christmas!