Our post from the beginning of the week from Pema Chodron talked about the reasons for letting go of hope: that hope was something often used as a crutch or a device for not having to fully face the truth of a situation. Today, we’re flipping to the other side of the fence with this passage from Anne Lamott’s collection of essays, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope. Reflecting mostly on current global events and their repercussions, especially on the young, Lamott observes that it’s easy to slip into a state of despondency regarding the human condition. Nonetheless, she endeavors to plug into a more positive outlook and to quite simply find reasons to be optimistic – mostly, she posits, the wonder of our capacities and our very being. “Kindness, soul, light and food,” she finally concludes, are the bedrock of our hopeful states and at the heart of the joy we can find in living.
Science also fills me with immense hope and relief, and not just the antibiotics I am stockpiling for Armageddon. Friends and family members have died peacefully and pain-free after what used to be devastating illnesses, and some others ended up not dying of them at all. I have a friend with late-stage liver cancer, who is just not going anywhere and is always in a good mood, because she gets to be alive. When people talk about what terrible times these are, I remind them of Cipro, antiretrovirals, electric cars, vaccines. Scientists broke the genetic code, decontaminated miles and miles of the Hudson River, cured my older brother of advanced hepatitis C. The human mind, for all its bad press and worse ideas, is as awe-inspiring as Yosemite, as stars.
Our minds are hardwired in many ways to do many things, only half of which from my observations are self-destructive. We can walk without thinking about how we do it, and stay upright. (Well, most of us can, most of the time.) We can recognize a face from the past in a fraction of a second. Our minds can instantly determine whether that face is “friend,” “foe,” or “unknown” in that same fraction. But if it is someone we’ve been introduced to that day, we might not be able to remember the person’s name ten minutes later. Most of our brains are very good at some things but not so good at others, prewired for certain tasks but not for everything, good enough for most of us and definitely for government work. And then there are the artists, musicians, scientists, painters of light, and physicists—Caravaggio, Rumi, Einstein. As soon as regular people like me can grasp that light is particles, like specks of sand, or that light is waves, like the ripples in water, then scientists step in and prove not only that light is both, but that when we observe light, we change it. I mean, come on, now.
Life is way wilder than I am comfortable with, way farther out, as we used to say, more magnificent, more deserving of awe and, I would add, more benevolent—well-meaning, kindly. Waves and particles, redwoods, poetry, this world of wonders and suffering, great crowds of helpers and humanitarians, here we are alive right now, together. I worry myself sick about the melting ice caps, the escalating arms race, and the polluted air as I look forward with hope to the cleansing rains, the coming spring, the warmth of summer, the student marches. John Lennon said, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end,” and as this has always been true before, we can hope it will be again.
We have all we need to come through. Against all odds, no matter what we’ve lost, no matter what messes we’ve made over time, no matter how dark the night, we offer and are offered kindness, soul, light, and food, which create breath and spaciousness, which create hope, sufficient unto the day.