My late cousin, Liz, used to tell the story of an elderly relative, sick abed during the 1930s. The elderly gentleman was a staunch Republican and to tease him, his grandchildren waited until he was asleep, then positioned a photograph of Franklin D. Roosevelt --- whom he despised --- so that it would be the first thing he saw upon awakening. The old man awoke, sat up, spotted the photograph --- and died.
It's a good story, recalled while I was looking for the origin of what must be among Roosevelt's most famous lines, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," incorporated into his first inaugural address.
The interesting thing is, no one is quite sure where that line came from. Politicians rarely write their own speeches, but generally do amend the efforts of their professional writers. So a speech writer may have thought up the line --- or Roosevelt may have added it himself.
Whatever the case, his usage of it was hardly the first. Henry David Thoreau, for example, noted in his diary entry for Sept. 7, 1851: "Nothing is so much to be feared as fear."
We've certainly had good examples of the truth in that line during the last week, following the bombings by Islamic terrorists in Paris.
Professional terrorists understand the power of fear and use it skillfully. Slaughter is merely a tool that contributes to the goal --- to terrify, divide and weaken. In this instance, in the United States, it worked last week. Round 1 to the terrorists.
Politicians are adept at cultivating fear, too.
And fear seems always to have been a principal tool used by two of the three great Abrahamic religions --- Christianity and Islam. Convince the faithful that yours is the only effective anti-hellfire insurance and you win.
Finding a scapegoat is a useful tool in fear-based strategies, too --- the infidel, Jews, Communists, gay people, Syrian refugees ....
But I'm feeling hopeful this morning.
Little Jacob will be baptized in a couple of hours at St. Andrew's, and I find great promise in that --- although I'm by no means an orthodox believer. May he grow up to be a peace-maker, unafraid.
And then my cousin, Rachel, and her sweetheart, Emily Anne, were married on Friday. There's great hope, too, in their faith in and commitment to each other.
And for obvious reasons, that marriage is especially significant to me: Rachel and I are triple cousins, related distantly both maternally and paternally, and to the best of my knowledge no one in any of these family lines has successfully landed a Cohen before. So I have a new surname to plug into the family history files --- not once, not twice, but thrice!