Vail Daily column: Tackle life with bulldog determination |

Vail Daily column: Tackle life with bulldog determination

Jack Van Ens

Edward R. Murrow hired Eric Sevareid as a World War II correspondent because his writing style delivered punch and power. After the war, Sevareid offered commentaries on CBS “Evening News.” Viewers received depth of reflection on then-current events.

In his autobiography, “Not So Wild a Dream: A Personal Story of Youth and War and the American Faith,” Sevareid pinpoints a personality strength for difficult times. “I had always a kind of reverence for brilliance, eloquence and physical bravery,” he declared. “I have come to have even more for that quality the Romans called gravitas — patience, stamina, weight of judgment. This is the essential quality of the truly strong, our preservers.” (p. xix, Atheneum, 1976)

Although physically disabled, many stouthearted protesters crowded into Senators’ offices to condemn the GOP’s health care proposal. They exuded gravitas. Even when police arrested them for loitering, these protesters kept expressing their convictions. They had a bulldog grip on the Republican health care policy and wouldn’t release it until this proposal was shredded.

Initially, these wheel-chair protesters faced poor odds to succeed, but their can-do spirit prevailed. Call it determination, persistence or gutting it out; these bodily weak but mentally strong people developed a muscle that didn’t wither. They learned to “keep on keeping on,” the heart of Eric Sevareid’s gravitas.

The GOP-controlled Senate adopted a deeply flawed strategy for health care legislation. They wrongly assumed a bill would come from Senate chambers closed to the public through secret deliberations. All political power for health care was to flow from a few male GOP operatives to citizens in the hinterlands who would meekly OK what Washington insiders decided.

This strategy backfired because grassroots protests stopped the GOP health care mess from becoming even messier. They used power not dependent on guns and money. Historian Howard Zinn observed, “That apparent power has again and again proved vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage patience. … No cold calculation of the balance of power need deter people who are persuaded their cause is just.” (Sun magazine, “The Optimism of Uncertainty,” p. 25, October 2016)

On the Sunday prior to the GOP’s health-care collapse, I portrayed Thomas Jefferson in costume for two small groups of citizens who wrote postcards, attended rallies and telephoned politicians’ offices protesting Trumpcare. Disappointed, some of these folks wondered whether they made measurable inroads in public policy.

How did Jefferson preserve an indomitable spirit? How did he obey the biblical challenge not “to grow weary in well doing” and have confidence that “in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9)?

Jefferson exercised snap-back tenacity. His gravitas — the ability to keep on keeping on — energized him. He realized negotiating deals with the opposition party made building the Republic messy. Progress didn’t come easily or fast. Pressing forward was exhausting.

Writing to Rev. Charles Clay after returning to Virginia from Paris in 1789, Jefferson conceded that “the ground of liberty is to be gained by inches, that we must be content to secure what we can get from time to time, and eternally press forward for what is yet to get. It takes time to persuade men to do even what is for their own good.” (“Jefferson: Architect of American Liberty,” John B. Boles, p. 200, Basic Books, 2017)

Join Americans in wheelchairs whose resilience, determination and persistence roll them forward. Occupants in Washington’s corridors of power bow to them.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (, which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.

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