When Choosing Hope is Hard: Some Thoughts On Modern Life

These days . . .  they are hard.  Brutal days, for so many people.  Being gay isn’t easy.  Being black isn’t easy.  Being Latino isn’t easy.  Being Muslim isn’t easy.  Being a police officer isn’t easy.  Being a woman isn’t easy.  Hell, even being a Trump supporter isn’t easy these days.  Nothing seems easy these days.  We are angry.  So many of us feel angry these days, myself included.  It is exhausting.

When my daughter was going through her cancer treatment, my salvation was hope.  The trick, though, was in having to choose hope.  I learned quickly that when I chose hope, in whatever manner that presented itself, my life was made easier.  That active choice to hope, to believe, helped make my unbearable life bearable.  Hope guided me to savor the moments with my girl, to keep the focus on her, to believe we would be okay, despite the wreckage of cancer.

In my grief, choosing hope guided me, too.  In every way.  Hope allowed me to put my feet on the floor first thing in the morning, change diapers for my surviving son, find joy in places large and small.  Hope is what brought us to adopt our youngest son.  Hope is what allowed us to heal when our open adoption was closed.  Hope saw me through six months of illness with my Dad when there were days he was full of rage and vile insults, a cancer growing in him, changing him, that we had no idea existed.

Hope has been my religion, in a very literal sense.  An external structure, a faith, that provides support and comfort in difficult times.

These days, though, choosing hope is hard.  Really hard.

My son is a student in a Chicago public school.  There are constant threats of cuts, closures, and strikes.  Literally every day of his formal education has been a challenge on some level.  Gun violence in Chicago staggers the mind.  The numbers have a numbing effect.  We live in Illinois, a State that has existed without a budget for two years now.  Our elected officials spend more time blaming and posturing than governing.  Social service agencies that have existed and served vulnerable people for over 100 years are closing their doors and no one seems to care.

There has been great strife in my son’s school since January.  Grown adults acting like horrible, ill behaved children.  I have been the subject of rumors and mean girl campaigns that have had me in tears more often than I care to admit.  Acquaintances literally stop talking when I approach, then walk away.  Others challenging me with lies and accusations about me, not wanting to accept the truth I offer.  It has made me realize that if a community of local parents with a common interest can not make things work, why should we expect more from the politicians in our capitals?

I spend too much time on the Internet for professional reasons, and the imbalance skews me, perhaps hardens me.  There is so much outrage on the Internet, leaving not a lot of room for nuance.  There is an Old West “good guy” or “bad guy” mentality that develops.  People want to know and label where you fall on any number of issues.  We take one another’s temperature with close screenings of words and status updates that may or may not be accurate, then judge accordingly.  It is easy to become jaded and defensive.  Too easy.

Guns and rape and gorillas and religion and politics divide us.  I honestly have started to consider the possibility of a modern civil war erupting in the US, as it feels we are hurtling in that direction at an alarming rate.  So many of us seem to live in a place of fear.  We fear difference.  We fear violence.  We fear authority and the government.  We fear one another.  We fear guns.  We fear gun control.  As someone who lived in fear for two and a half years, I can tell you that it messes with you. Living in fear is not a healthy state of mind.  It changes you in ways that are potentially devastating.

This weekend a dear friend, in confidence, told me I was not handling myself well online.  That I was making myself a victim instead of listening to others who had been victimized.  Her words stung.  Still do, honestly.  I keep thinking about them.  This morning, wallowing in this sense of helplessness and hopelessness I feel, I appreciate that I feel victimized.  It’s no one’s doing.  It’s simply a consequence of living in the world today, feeling victimized, feeling powerless, living in fear. Allowing that fear, that sense of victimhood to bleed into my day-to-day, well, that ain’t cool.  It’s paralyzing and counterproductive and proof of an absence of hope.

Dammit.

So now what?  Now I have to work at choosing hope.  I have to try hard.  Then, I have to try harder.  I have to, perhaps, step away from online stimulation.  I have to take nature walks.  I have to play with my boys.  I have to dance.  I have to remember the people I love who have left me and the lessons they taught.  I have to believe. I have to find faith.  I have to go to the joy.  I have to remind the people I love that I love them.  I have to revel in the snuggles of my toddler and the clever of my young son.  I have to commit to change.  I have to use my voice.  I have to surround myself with art.  I have to read other people’s words, swim in their stories.  I have to appreciate a rain drop and a flower and the curve of a branch.  I have to pay attention.  I have to take care.

There is an artist from Kentucky that speaks to me.  Charles M. Laster, C.M. to his friends.  From the moment I first saw his art at an Outsider Art Fair in Harbert, Michigan back in 2009, in the days when my girl was still alive, but we knew she was dying, his art moved me.  I have felt, in looking at his work, that he is a fellow traveler in life who sometimes stumbles, but whose hope keeps him going.  His art is eternally hopeful, I think.  Today, in the midst of my wallow over Orlando and Stanford and Chicago and all places touched by violence, I glanced at a piece of his art I was lucky enough to purchase this winter.  This is it:

The back of this piece says, "If the little creatures can find a meal always, you will also be fed.  Always.  Believe."
The back of this piece says, “If the little creatures can find a meal always, you will also be fed. Always. Believe.”

C.M. reminds me to believe.  To believe is my responsibility, one that, I hope, leads to a better quality of life.  One that allows me to raise my sons to be kind and compassionate men.  One that allows me to power through times of uncertainty.  One that allows me to forgive and ask for forgiveness, whatever is called for in any given moment.  One that I can breathe and sleep and experience and live.

I needed a sign today, a reminder to hope, to choose hope.  I found it on my bookshelf.  I am grateful.

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