“Nothing is stronger than a small hope that doesn’t give up.”
~Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive
We have two choices right now: numbness or hope.
Between the worrisome state of the world and carrying the weight of my own personal trauma, I’m pretty tired. Soul tired. Existentially tired. It’s a lot to process climate change, the never-ending mask fights, keeping up with the latest situation in Kabul or Port-au-Prince or New Orleans or Sacramento. It would seem like we all have so much soul work to do, yet people are still somehow finding time to punch flight attendants, scream at school board members, fat-shame poor Lizzo. My friend Patrese lost her mother and grandmother on the same day to covid. My friend Casey just learned her cancer is back and now, instead of trying for a baby, she gets a hysterectomy. My husband and daughter, genetically inclined to worry, grow ever more anxious about the state of the world.
Everywhere I look – both near and far – I see fear, pain, and injustice. It makes me feel small and scared and very, very tired. I want to shut out the world, crawl back under the covers. I want to look away. I’m too tired to look at any more tragedy. Numbness feels like the logical choice right now.
How do any of us hold more trauma in a world already cut thin?
A lot of you have given up reading at this point, and I don’t blame you. Bleak isn’t a term people often use to describe my writing. My work tends to get labeled optimistic and positive.
But I’m tired, and optimistic feels not only hard right now, but dishonest. I know I’m not alone. We passed the breaking point months ago, now simply find ourselves broken. Closing our eyes and our hearts to any more sadness is basic survival.
I’ve heard it said that a monk asked the Buddha the difference between a wise man and a fool. “The wise man keeps the important thing important and the small things small. The fool makes the important thing small and the small things important.” The monk nodded. It was a good answer. But something about it niggled at his heart and mind. It took many hours of strolling in the woods before he figured it out. He hurried back to the Buddha. “In both cases, you said the important thing. Singular. As if there is only one important thing. You said small things, plural, as if there are lots of those. So what’s the important thing?”
The Buddha smiled. “Hope, of course. Great hope opens your heart to great pain because it forces you to be awake in a world that begs you to sleep. As long as you have hope, you can sit with any amount of pain.”
While I believe this is true, it feels terribly inconvenient right now. Hope seems like a lot of work.
But then despair wins. The more we are tempted to look away from despair and injustice, the more important hope becomes. So I’ll take deep breaths, look at more trees and fewer screens. Surround myself with people who share this worldview and let go of those people only bringing toxic selfishness to the table. I’ll kiss my husband and kid more often. And my emotional support dog (and his emotional support cat). I’ll offer up more grace and less grumbling, more compassion and less combativeness. Practice being a decent human being by not giving in to despair and negativity. Try to inspire others in any small way I can in every tiny moment available to me, be a force for good in a world gone mad. And believe – dare I say hope – that this is enough.
My light of hope may be small right now, but under the right circumstances, a tiny spark can become a raging fire.