As America enters a time of war and pondering, a lot of us who are not at the front are doing a good deal of the pondering.

In my case, I've been pondering the way our government sends us mixed signals. One signal says we're mopping up over there, the other cautions us all to expect the very worst.You could probably make a case that our whole country has been built on those conflicting ideas:

Always expect the worst, but:

Always expect the best.

My father-in-law tells a story that features both notions. It's a story about a Sanpete Indian who fought other people's battles.

Seems my father-in-law - whom I'll now call "Owen" to keep things moving - was dating the girlfriend of a Snow College football hero. One night the hero chases Owen into this Manti drugstore. There, one of Owen's Indian friends offers to take the football player on for him. Well, the football guy knocks the stuffing out of the Indian.

So the Indian goes home, trains, practices, then looks Owen up a few weeks later.

"Let's find that football player," he says.

In one version of the story, Owen has the Indian getting the stuffing knocked out of him a second time. That's the "expect the worst" version. The moral is similar to the old Hoyt Axton line: "Work your fingers to the bone, what do you get? Bony fingers."

It's a story about life holding "no guarantees." I think of the recent Clint Eastwood film. A worried father hands Eastwood some money to guarantee the safety of his son. Eastwood hands the money back. "If you want a guarantee," he says, "buy a toaster."

If you sprinkle in some other thoughts - things like "No human body has ever come with a warranty" - Owen's story becomes a Sunday sermon about the trials and tribulations of mortality.

But the other version of the story is true, too. In that version the Indian returns to kick the daylights out of the football player.

Now it's a lesson on "expect the best." It's a sermon on faith, a retelling of Job. It becomes a Broadway musical with a happy ending.

So what does all this have to do with the gulf?

It means we'll probably spend several weeks in total confusion as Americans go around expecting the worst and expecting the best at the same time.

As an afterthought, in the Eastwood movie where Eastwood says "If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster," he and the father's boy go on to beat the bad guys and earn promotions.

It happens every time.

If you want a guaranteed happy result, in other words, buy a toaster or go to a Clint Eastwood movie.