“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness” Desmond Tutu
Life is pretty messy right now. We’ve lived with the loss, grief, and constraints on our lives as a result of the pandemic for almost a year. Life experiences that would have seemed inconceivable a year ago have become something that we face every day. As sensitive, caring, human beings, it is a heavy burden. I was beginning to believe that the new year would bring us slowly back to some kind of normalcy. One where we would no longer be counting daily the number of people who die, and where we’d be able to gather with family and friends and even travel to the places we’ve dreamed about. I hope that there was the proverbial light at the end of the very long, dark tunnel we’ve been traveling through.
But on January 6, 2020, the hope I’d been feeling took a deep dive as I witnessed the attack on our Capitol. I was transfixed by the images I was seeing, and I was struck by the similarity in my feelings to 9/11. I first felt disbelief, followed by horror, outrage, sadness, despair, and back again to disbelief. As I cycled repeatedly through these feelings I realized they were worse than what I felt on 9/11. I was witnessing an attack on my country, not by terrorists from some foreign land, but by fellow citizens. As anguished as I was on 9/11, I never questioned whether our democracy would survive. That night I wasn’t sure and went to bed with a heavy heart.
I woke the next day with lingering feelings of anger, grief, and dread and knew that I needed to find the resources that would pull me out of my funk.
In times of tragedy, poetry has been a source of comfort for me and for many others. I turned to the poem by Wendell Berry that I always turn to first during these times. I share it here in the hope that you, too, will find solace in these words.
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Knowing the importance of routine, I started my day with coffee, meditation, writing in my journal, and a four-mile walk. I walked quietly, searching for glimmers of hope. One of those moments occurred as I walked by the brook near my house. There are ducks and geese and, yes, a heron. These ducks are unable to fly any distance and would likely starve as the brook freezes over. Each morning I chat with the woman who has made it her mission to feed them. Her kindness touched me deeply on this day when I was questioning the goodness of my fellow humans.
Seeking out small acts of kindness like this is one way to find hope when hope can easily slip out of our grasp. And performing an act of kindness is a way to inspire hope in others.
Hope is a Choice
“Hope is a renewable option: If you run out of it at the end of the day, you get to start over in the morning.” Barbara Kingsolver
What exactly, is hope? There are numerous definitions of hope, but we each need to decide what it means for us, and what role it plays in our lives. I’ve spent the week since the attack on our Capitol thinking about what it means to me. I’ve struggled to write this post as my glimmers of hope argued with my feelings of helplessness. I knew that the grief and fear I was feeling wouldn’t magically disappear and that it was important to honor those feelings while looking for the light.
Hope is not passive, not something where we can sit back and wait for things to be different. It’s not wishing for a better future and doing nothing to make that happen. I’ve come to think of hope as a muscle, one that must be exercised regularly. There are things that we can do to build that muscle. Here are a few ideas and I hope that you will add to the list.
Look to the things that fill your life with light – family, friends, pets, the beauty in nature, the goodness in others. Buy a plant, nurture it and watch it grow. If you are a gardener, start planning your garden. If you don’t have the space for a garden, imagine the garden you would plant. Read books and watch videos that inspire hope. And don’t forget humor – a heaping dose!
Create something. The destruction we are witnessing can break down our spirits. Why not take the time to create something. It doesn’t have to be a literary masterpiece or a great work of art. Perhaps you might try a new recipe for tonight’s dinner. Or if you are inclined, pull together some images from magazines (if you still have them) and create a collage of images that inspire hope in you. If you take photos with your phone, try one of the free online collage makers with photos that comfort you. What other ideas for creating might you have?
Know that whatever you’re feeling is acceptable. Whether it’s anger, sadness, fear, or uncertainty, your feelings are normal and understandable. It’s okay to feel them, but be sure to do whatever you need to do to let them go.
Believe that there is an underlying order in the Universe. Night becomes day, the seasons change, the stars come out at night. I’ve found that putting order into my life (cleaning off my desk, going through clothes and papers that I no longer need), helps me to feel a sense of calm and control.
Find what helps you feel safe. The National Guard is protecting vulnerable places in our country. Find an inner protector that helps to create a sense of safety whether that be meditation, prayer, or visualizing what your protector looks like. Or you might create a safe place that you go to in your mind.
Connect with others and talk about hope. It’s easy to talk about our anger and anxiety and fear and we need to do that, but it’s not helpful to stop there. Talk about what inspires you, what gives you hope for the future.
Write. You may already be keeping a journal. If you are, I hope that you are writing about the positives in your life as well as processing the challenges that you might be experiencing. If you’re not, you might try to write a list of the things that give you hope or the things that bring you joy. Try writing a dialogue with hope – what would you like to ask hope? What does hope have to offer you? This is an effective (and often fun) exercise.
Here are two poems that offer perspective on hope and kindness. Enjoy!
A Small Grain of Hope
I have a small grain of hope–
one small crystal that gleams clear colors out of transparency.
I need more.
I break off a fragment to send to you.
Please take this grain of a grain of hope so that mine won’t shrink.
Please share your fragment so that yours will grow.
Only so, by division, will hope increase,
like a clump of irises, which will cease to flower unless you distribute the clustered roots, unlikely source– clumsy and earth-covered– of grace.
I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you” when someone sneezes, a leftover from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying. And sometimes, when you spill lemons from your grocery bag, someone else will help you pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other. We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot, and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder, and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass. We have so little of each other, now. So far from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange. What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here, have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”
The issues we are facing aren’t going away soon. The pandemic and the divisions in our country will be with us. Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness may creep in. I am making a commitment to wake up each morning and choose hope. I invite you to do the same.
Begin your journey finding hope, by making transformational health and wellness changes.
Elaine Brooks, M.A., RN, NC-BC is a board-certified nurse coach in Connecticut. She is proud that she was in the first cohort to complete the INCA training. She worked as a psychiatric and mental health nurse for many years and now has a private coaching practice. Her focus is on working with people in transition. She is a certified transition writing specialist and certified applied poetry facilitator.