Commentary

Editor’s Notebook: Hugs and kisses

May 11, 2022 6:10 am

“The Haldeman Diaries,” with a guest appearance by SpongeBob SquarePants. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

The war in Ukraine is still leading the daily news reports for the nation’s major news sites, and rightfully so. It’s a tragedy that grows by the minute.

The fallout from the Supreme Court leak has held the second slot for much of the past week, typically followed by COVID-19 news du jour (a Washington Post headline on Friday read like an accidental reprint from last year: “Coronavirus wave this fall could infect 100 million, administration warns”), and right below that, for now, you’ll often find a stressful analysis of the economy in general or inflation specifically.

Scroll down further and there might be a story or two about the changing climate and what, if anything, can be done about it, as well as the latest example of just how politically divided – and politically nasty – this nation has become.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Some “fun news” (EVERYTHING IS FINE AND NORMAL! REPEAT, EVERYTHING IS FINE AND NORMAL!) is sprinkled in – a Goodwill store in Texas sold an ancient Roman bust for $34.99! – to keep readers from logging off and curling up into a ball.

The light distractions are welcome, but a disturbing thought persists: What new and terrible event or revelation will knock the Ukraine war out of the lead spot, the way Ukraine replaced COVID-19 (which hasn’t gone anywhere), and COVID-19 booted climate change (which really hasn’t gone anywhere).

I suppose that’s “catastrophic thinking,” but who can blame a weary reader? Most above-the-fold stories elicit the same reaction – “I hate it here” – and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

The best defense against the onslaught of negative news is to practice gratitude, and I’ve been trying to improve in that area. The “big picture” for the 21st century may conjure a hellscape by Hieronymus Bosch, but there’s plenty to be grateful for if you adjust the magnification. Zoom in, zoom out, change the lens. This is a terrible, beautiful world we share – and it’s always been that way. 

H.R. Haldeman, who served as chief of staff to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to the spring of 1973, was supposed to be the main character of this essay. I have a book called “The Haldeman Diaries” – which is exactly what the title suggests – and I thought I would look at some of the entries from 50 years ago this week as a reminder, for myself most of all, that things weren’t exactly great in the year I was born, either. For example, the entry for Wednesday, May 10, 1972, reads, in part: “He (Nixon) had (Charles) Colson and K (Henry Kissinger) in today. Raised some points on follow-up, told me to get to General (Vernon) Walters and tell him to work independently on Vietnam propaganda, get stories in the South regarding the problems in the North, and stories in the North regarding the decimation of the regiments and lack of food and everything in the South.”

War. Propaganda. Decimation of the regiments. Lack of food. Billy Joel is, of course, correct: “The good old days weren’t always good.” So, as I said, I planned to explore the diary a bit and punctuate the fact that our “now” is not uniquely awful, but then SpongeBob SquarePants showed up where Haldeman should have been.

I read a lot when my girls were toddlers. It was the way I regained time for myself after playing princess, doing my so-so Shrek impersonation, and watching The Wiggles. We would play off and on throughout the day, and I would try to find moments here and there to get lost in the pages of “Swann’s Way” or “The Count of Monte Cristo” – or maybe a volume about the Nixon White House.

When I set out to start writing this column on Monday, I pulled “The Haldeman Diaries” from the shelf and opened it to where it wanted to be opened. And there was a SpongeBob coloring page cutout staring up at me in all of its Crayola glory. On the back, my younger daughter had written her name and four extra letters: XOXO. It was a gift she gave me long ago – and again today.

Sentimentality is a trap, and I do my best to avoid it when I can. So I put the cutout aside and tried to focus on Haldeman, on the essay I had begun crafting in my head, but I couldn’t get there. 

XOXO. 

Life was better then, wasn’t it? Mornings in the playroom, the coloring pages and sketches that said “I love you,” my girls at play and unburdened by their world.

Or was everything just the same, terrible and beautiful, and only the lens was better?

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Dana Wormald
Dana Wormald

Dana Wormald, a lifelong resident of New Hampshire, has been a newspaper editor for more than 25 years. He began his career on the Concord Monitor’s news desk in 1995 and later spent more than a decade at the New Hampshire Union Leader. In 2014, he returned to the Monitor to serve as opinion editor, a position he held until being named editor of the Bulletin.

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