A Great Speech for Tough Times

As some of us have been fearing, the Dow is down nearly 600 points today. If the bail-out fails to pass in Congress, chances are it will fall much further. We may be in for some truly hard times ahead.

This is not a time for happy talk, but it is a time to think of great speeches to buck us up.

Almost everyone has heard the great Tom Joad speech from the John Ford/Henry Fonda movie (which is viewable here). It’s virtually identical to a version Steinbeck wrote for the stage (passage available here).

Some consider it the greatest movie speech of all time. Even if you haven’t actually seen the movie, or the play, or read the book, you’ve probably heard some version of the words Tom Joad says to Ma Joad as he leaves her to find his own way into the world:

I’ll be all around in the dark. I’ll be ever’-where – wherever you
can look. Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be
there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be
in the way guys yell when they’re mad – I’ll be in the way kids laugh
when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when the people
are eatin’ the stuff they raise, and livin’ in the houses they build –
I’ll be there, too

But how many have heard the great buck-up speech from another American classic, A Death in the Family?

Let me share one moment from it. You won’t regret it: nor, most likely, ever fully forget reading this.

In this scene, a hard-working brother, Andrew, speaks from the heart to his sister, Mary, giving her all he can, after she has suffered the grievous loss of her husband:

See here…it’s bad enough now but it’s going to take a while to sink in. When it really sinks in it’s going to be any amount worse. It’ll be so much worse you’ll think it’s more than you can bear. Or any other human being. And worse than that, you’ll have to go through it alone, because there isn’t a thing on earth any of us can do to help, beyond blind animal sympathy.

That’s why you’re going to need very ounce of common sense you’ve got. Just spunk won’t be enough; you’ve got to have gumption. You’ve got to bear it in mind that nobody ever lived is specially privileged; the axe can fall at any moment, on any neck, without any warning or any regard for justice. You’ve got to keep your mind off pitying your own rotten luck and setting up any kind of a howl about it. You’ve got to remember that things as bad as this and a hell of a lot worse have happened to millions of people before and that they’ve come through it and that you will too. You’ll bear it because there isn’t any choice–except to go to pieces. You’ve got two children to take care of. And regardless of that you owe it to yourself and you owe it to him.

…it’s kind of a test, Mary, and it’s the only kind that amounts to anything. When something rotten like this happens. Then you have your choice. You start to really be alive, or you start to die. That’s all.

The book was written by the great writer, critic, and screenwriter James Agee, and was the basis of a play called All the Way Home. (Have to see that some day.) Here’s a picture of James Agee, a favorite writer of my late beloved Grandmother’s, and (I’m beginning to think) a source for some of her wisdom.


Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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