Choosing Hope

Published in the Ferndale Record, December 14, 2011

We’re in the middle of what’s been called the season of perpetual hope, which often brings out greater kindness and generosity in people than they normally exhibit. This phenomenon produces delight in a dismal world. Even if we require nothing else, we need hope—and a whole bunch of it, please.

Within recent weeks, a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, a married couple I’m close to separated, a friend’s home is just a tweak away from foreclosure, someone else has ongoing serious health concerns, and another’s child is involved in a destructive relationship.

I remembered something written by Anne Morrow Lindbergh: “My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds.”

That’s it. Within my small reach, there’s not enough time, resource, energy, or ability to meaningfully assist everyone I care about. Starving children and abused animals shown on TV make my heart ache more. Our troops, keeping us and other nations safe, veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress, missing children, the mentally and physically disabled, the elderly—the list continues.

Apathy broods. It all feels so immediate. I can’t take care of everything now, so why help with anything at all? I know of people who just sort of go away somewhere in their minds while in the middle of circumstances that don’t concern them. Sometimes, I wish I could do that. The ability to turn numb or a deaf ear could be useful. On the other hand, being fully engaged at every moment would be exhausting and futile.

What I can do is create hope and tiny bits of light in my own corner. Today, I can’t build a hospital in Haiti, or send clean drinking water to a third world country. But I can visit a sick friend. I can send $20 to a struggling student. I can share my experience with an aching soul that might help them look forward to a brighter day.

I know this is true. Not so much because of what I’ve done, but because of what’s been done for me. A contribution of very small consequence by the world’s standard has, more than once, provided me with hope to get up another morning.

Here’s the deal—we all have hard luck stories. Every single one of us. And if we don’t have one yet, we will. It’s not just because we’re bad tempered, poor money managers, unlovable, flaky, were born under a certain sign, or didn’t vote in the last election (although some of those could apply at any given time). It’s the nature of life.

Anyone who reads what I write knows that I believe in God. I also believe that we’re here to help each other, and that doesn’t necessarily mean emptying my 401K for a worthy cause. It does mean more listening and less talking, a little more sacrifice and patience, a little less instantly getting what I want.

If we stop blaming others and ourselves, and keep moving ahead, no matter how slowly, hope will seep into and fill up the pockets and pores of our lives like maple syrup in thick, earthy pancakes. I promise.