When the night is darkest, and the storms envelop each of us, storms not of our doing, where do we look for hope? Perhaps, we can dispense with “not of our doing” given that whatever storms appear, they are a part of us, whether or not we played a significant role in their cause.
Stage 4 cancer diagnosis, for example, delivered at the first visit to the doctor and the first round of tests, brings one face to face with one’s mortality. Where is the hope for those thousands, if not millions, who are walking each day with that diagnosis, and the unpredictability of its re-emergence even after a period of recession? Is there hope in the sunrise, and the fresh air to walk in today? Is there hope in the smile at the breakfast table from one’s partner, who, too, knows intimately the weight of that diagnosis, and the ensuing loss of control, not only of the disease itself, but of the manner in which each partner will adjust hourly, daily and certainly month by month? Is there hope in the experimental genetic coding-appropriate drug cocktails that emerge slowly and relentlessly from the labs? Is there hope from the medical marijuana that, while it will never cure, could offer some relief from the pain and the anxiety that accompanies the disease and the diagnosis?
And is there hope from the colleagues and acquaintances who, too, have been given a similar diagnosis, and who have “made it” through some few years, without a recurrence? Does the world take on a new perspective, one that could be likened to looking through a microscope given the new significance of each and every detail, every scent, every musical note, every walk through the forest, or along the beach….in the full conscious awareness that this could be the “last” time for that experience? Is there hope in sitting on the cottage deck watching the birds, and the forest insects and furry creatures busily flitting about in their daily chores? Is there hope listening to the far-off loon, calling from across the lake, a sound familiar over years, if not decades of sitting on that deck?
Is there hope in reading the words of others, writers, who have either experienced first hand a similar darkness and have taken to their pens (or tablets or laptops) to record the darkness, and their unique and imaginative paths in search of the light in the keyhole of that dark room. As Cohen reminds us, “there is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in”….and could it be that the diagnosis is a new “crack” in the life to let new light into the spirit. We are so extrinsically oriented to the outside world, and so protective of that world’s entry into our private spaces, believing that their incursion would only contaminate our quietude.
Could it be that even before the diagnosis, we are/were a light without being fully conscious of that reality? Inspiration, that word and experience that attends artistic expression its impact on our spirit, could be coming from people we see and greet every day without either they or us being fully conscious of that ‘connection’.
Our silence in either failing or refusing to express our gratitude, and the grace that comes with it, for the inspiration we find almost without looking for it, until the darkness closes in, is separating, disconnecting and dispiriting. We are so quick and glib about finding the miniscule faults in each other, as if our critical parent were in demand across the globe and without our specific criticisms the world would “go to hell in a handbasket”. And yet, there is another way to perceive, and to begin to relate to the world: from the perspective of the darkness of those diagnosed with a terminal illness.
We teach “critical thought” in schools, as an integral component in all curricula, for whatever degree or profession. And discernment, even between narrow and similar notions is needed in order to weed out the wheat from the chaff in all of our public encounters. News reporters, especially, are schooled in both the detection of wrong doing, illicit behaviour and in the dissemination of reports of those shenanigans. And yet, we ignore the potential power and gift of the spirit and the reality of the incarnation of hope, a trait that, it says here, comes with every single person on the planet. Sidelining stories about kindness, generosity, and hope amidst the raging forest fires, for example, only illustrates our normal blindness to such stories. Putting them at the end of television news casts, as warm-fuzzies, only serves to leave the viewers with a less-than-anguished taste in our mouth from the rest of the news, all of which, we all agree is very bad.
Do we actually think and/or believe that we are weak, odd, irrelevant and emotionally crippled if we acknowledge a need for hope, for kindness, for generosity, for altruism, for grace and for experiences that even hint of such gifts?
When we attend a symphony, we are not shy about exclaiming and celebrating the artistry of the composer and the musicians rendering the manuscript in an imaginative and sensitive and compelling manner. When we visit an art gallery, and witness, for example, a work by Renoir, we are not inhibited to share a “wow” or some other emotive expression that says something about how the painting touched us. When we look at Aurora Borealis, we are not ashamed to share our amazement at its brilliance, and its overpowering beauty. Similarly, with mountains, valleys, ocean shorelines and other features of landscapes that literally and metaphorically take our breath away with their majesty and their beauty. When we listen to a Stephen Hawking speak, not only do we marvel at the very fact he is speaking, but also we marvel at the wisdom and the insight and the depth of his perceptions about his life-long search to better understand the universe.
When we visit a nursery in a maternity ward in a hospital, we “Oo! Oo!” and “ah! ah!’ in the moment of coming face to face with a new human being. Similarly, when we learn a new and seemingly important insight about light, or energy, or the human cells, or the fact that scientists at U.B.C. have discovered how to make Type A and B blood universally acceptable to those in need, (like Type O is naturally) when there are the inevitable shortages…we are incredulous, and we also share in the hope that such a discovery unearths.
Whether the “moment” of hope and inspiration is a direct experience for us through our own senses, sensibilities and imagination, or whether, like the example of the blood above, it comes from a more abstract and somewhat distant vision, nevertheless, there is just no disputing that it still represents hope.
This morning as I carried out my duties, I encountered a man whose face is almost always predictably smiling, and when he speaks, no matter the specific content, his speech flows in echoes of that visual smile. And then, to top off the audible and visible smile and the kindness, generosity and good nature of his presence, he saw what looked like a scowl on my face, and immediately offered me a freshly harvested peach from his partner’s organic garden. When he listened to the background to my scowl, he darted right to the core of the issue, “It’s a lack of trust” isn’t it?”
“Of course,” I replied, and then he proceeded to analogize from his school years, with another parallel story in which a bureaucracy failed to trust its people. As we both rolled our eyes at the simplicity and the frequency of the scenario in which the corporation fails to trust both itself and also its people, we parted, at least one of us feeling uplifted, heard, understood and empathized with. Hope he did too! (The peach was delicious!)
Living in a northern climate, where winds and blizzards frequently join our lives in winter, we are well aware of the bite of the freezing rain and the frozen ears and fingers if we neglect to use protective clothing. One would think that our appreciation of hospitality, kindness, altruism and authentic hope and encouragement would evoke those responses much more frequently. In fact, the reverse seems to hold: we are a country that prides itself in our politeness, our deference and our patience in forming lines, queues whenever the situation requires it. We wait for planes, buses, trains, ships and concerts in a very orderly and docile manner; we do not encourage, support or lift up others in the course of our day, while holding our finger tightly to the “criticism trigger” unleashing that verbal paintball without a thought for whether or not it is merited, warranted or deeply hurtful.
The argument of inculcating humility, so revered in this culture, is actually a sabotage of itself, generating so much critical judgement that, in Canada, there is only a dominant super-ego, still in search of both an id and an ego. Colonization is a process that applies to indigenous people in this land north of the 49th parallel and yet the pattern, on a less toxic and heinous scale, is one used by corporations, universities, colleges, and especially families. We indulge in our obsession with accounting at the national level, and even when the Auditor General does report, we do not listen to the “failure to bring truth to power,” as have embedded our culture in a “privacy” cult secluded and protected from ever having to reach our in support and generosity or to tell the truth to supervisors who, themselves, are obsessively protecting their professional reputation, sending signals not to ruffle the waters of the department.
So we rob ourselves and others of both truthful and authentic appreciation of a simple thing like a job well done, as well as truthful, respectful and also authentic insight, when needed. Privatization, that sacred idol of the for-profit corporation, rules in our neighbourhoods, in our workplaces, in our schools, and churches. We do not have to get to know “who” we are nor whom are neighbours are, satisfying ourselves that we do no harm, cause no upset and bring about neither positive nor negative emotions from others.
Having sanitized our social lives, we have ghettoized our identities, except for those dramatic moments of birth, or death, an accident or fire, a terrorist attack, or a lottery win in the office pool. And in the process, we have also etherized hope, inspiration, and those expressions that give life and energy to the recipient, and ironically, yet truthfully, also to the donor.
Writing cheques, or taking left-over clothing to the Salvation Army, while noble, is hardly the extent of our potential to care, to support, to inspire and to help grow other people, their ideas, their dreams and their “potential”…Are we possible so insecure that we believe that if we encourage another in what to them is a life-giving dream, they will “better” us and we will be jealous? Are we so insecure that we believe that by extending a hand, whether asked or not, we are neither intruding nor imposing. And the same holds when another might need some support but fails to ask us, “because we do not impose”…..
Let’s get off our plastic thrones, set aside our cotton-candy ego’s, and put down our digital barriers that seduce us into believing we are “connected” when we are really like passing pen-lights in the dark…neither lighting our own way not the way of another. Our ideological hobbie horses have not place on a planet on which finite resources are being gobbled, and pollution of air, land and water is so wantonly prevalent that it threatens all life forms, including our own.
We will not grow, develop nor pass on an legitimate and honourable legacy in a garden of fear, criticism, opposition and demeaning bitterness. And, if there were ever a time in history when a “garden of hope” (in all of the multiple ways that picture evokes, but at its core is sharing, collaborating, supporting and even cheerleading for all of the others, not just those with terminal diagnoses, nor those living on the street, nor those carrying placards beside cars stopped at traffic lights, nor refugees nor asylum-seekers.
We have to grow the “soil” that will accept, nurture and grow the seeds of hope and life, for the single purpose of support all life….not just the life of the unborn fetus, and not just the newly uncloseted LGBTQ, and not just the indigenous, or the blacks or the Latinos. And the churches, historically dedicated to the nurture and delivery of all signs of hope, have to return to that incarnation of their faith, not the mere “profession” of that faith.
We need a whole generation of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s, willing to face whatever it takes, to confront the forces gaining control of the world, fear, racism, bigotry, greed, insouciance, fascism, and create more and more space for green-housing hope at home, at work, at school and certainly in our political arena. And, even in committing to such a confrontation, we cannot be assured of either victory or even of avoiding the “bullets” (both real and verbal) of those who profit from their hate.
To them, (and their numbers and their financial resources are growing like topsy) we are the enemy, will always be the enemy and have to accept the price for that courage, strength and hope taken to a far different level than currently.