I’ve been looking around the world lately and finding a lot to be in despair about – the massacres in Orlando and Dallas, young African American men being needlessly killed and the refusal of our political leaders to respond with more than a gesture. In the midst of it all, watching the ones who are supposed to lead us – our presidential hopefuls – engage a campaign full of name calling and bullying has made it so much harder to see a way forward.
And when you throw on top of that the diagnosis of a friend with an aggressive form of breast cancer plus all the day to day that life throws our way, it all just seems overwhelming. It’s so tempting to just hide out and pretend it will all go away – to crawl into a pit of despair and imagine someone will wake me when it’s over.
But despair is easy. It let’s me give up, go back to my anesthetizing screens, have another drink, disconnect even more. It repeats like the lyric of a pop song that gets stuck in your head. And in the end no one is better for it.
And let’s face it, we don’t have time for despair. There are too many lives being lost, there are too many hearts being broken. There is simply too much pain to sit hopelessly by becoming part of the problem.
So I have to hope – even when it seems the darkest – that the light can come if we help it. But not that kind of hope that sits on the couch and hopes I’ll win the lottery even though I didn’t buy a ticket. Hope is a constructive act. It requires looking for splinters of light in the darkness, weaving them together into a tapestry of possibility and then doing something to usher them into the world.
It requires work. Sometimes hard work, sometimes work that goes unnoticed. It invites us into scary places where we speak out knowing all too well that silence equals death – perhaps not our own but others who will suffer because our voice was not raised.
So at the crossroad of hope and despair, in the moments where I have to make a choice which path I will take, I remember how I have walked this path before and come through it. And I remember that there are those that don’t get to make a choice.
And, when I am brave (and sometimes when I am not) I do three things.
- First, I remind myself of all the times that I have come through despair before. Even when things have seemed horrible there has been light. I remember living through the height of the AIDS epidemic working to educate and support HIV positive friends. I remember the moments of personal despair when I have lost people so close to my heart. And I remember that I have survived.
- Second, I look for other people who are actively hoping too. Despair is a place of isolation that can leave us unaware of all the others just like me who are longing too. As my friend SARK says, “We are all so indelibly connected.” When I reach out with my heart, raise my voice and listen for another voice to call back, I’m invariably answered even when it takes a while.
- Third, I take any action – no matter how small – in the direction of light. Sometimes we get stuck because we think that what we do won’t won’t matter. That our actions are tiny. But I know that when I do nothing then nothing will really never happen. But if I start to act and so do others, then change is possible. I know the tasks ahead of us are enormous but I do not have to solve them all alone. I simply have to do my part.
The great social reformer Margaret Meade wrote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Somewhere deep in my bones I know this is true. I see it in the world that I live in – an African American President in the White House, in the arrival of marriage for all people, and so much more. I’ll keep hoping – actively – and I hope you’ll join me.