Hope is not always the obvious choice. At times, life can get too real, as Anne Lamont writes in a recent essay published in National Geographic. As in: Supreme Court hearings, intercepted pipe bombs, shootings in supermarkets and synagogues.
This month has seemed as densely packed as the one I was born into 50 years ago, which included the Tlatelolco massacre of hundreds of students in Mexico City, the launch of Apollo 7, and Tommie Smith and Juan Carlos’ raised fists.
I didn’t enter my 50th birthday weekend feeling a ton of hope. My honey was 5,000 miles away tending to his mother. My back ached more than usual, and I felt somewhat physically — and therefore psychologically — constrained. I had scheduled a procedure to zap a compressed nerve along my spine for the following Monday (the first available date I get!), and I was crossing all body parts that it would reduce the pain I’ve been dealing with for months. (As of yesterday, I have been able to resume some normal chores like sweeping leaves and cleaning litter boxes, so clearly, I’m on the upswing .)
I didn’t feel much like celebrating in any big way. Which is not to say that I didn’t have moments over the course of that long weekend I wasn’t grateful for: an intuitive reading with my friend and co-facilitator for my upcoming True Nature Eco-Healing Retreat in Belize in which my long-dead mom showed up and asked why I hadn’t written a book yet (What, ma? Doesn’t my poetry chapbook count for something?); a sweet conversation with a friend I met first day of first grade who recounted details of our childhood that had been displaced by more vivid and traumatic memories (my father’s secret stash of subway tokens in the top drawer of his dresser in case my friends and I wanted to take the bus to the mall; the aqua-colored spiral shaped slide that entertained us for hours); a 5rhythms workshop with hardwood floors that invited deep rest when pain would sear in; a friend’s birthday party (I couldn’t have possibly gotten my own together so it felt delightful to still get some cake in there!) where I had a series of delightful conversations with people I knew in my 20s. All weekend, admiring who we had all become.
The weekend ended with a another friend who made me dinner (grand prize!) before we headed to a live interview of Eve Ensler and Anne Lamont attended by an exuberant crowd. They mused about hope, writing and how we heal. (Hint, you need to keep cultivating hope, especially in dark seasons. Writing helps. If you do those things, you’ll feel better.)
Honestly, neither said anything they hadn’t said in previous interviews, or their many essays, books or plays.
But it was important to hear repeated during a cycle when I’m focused on what is falling away — leaves, a sense of decency and generosity in public spaces (by which I mean everything from sidewalks to twitter), the possibility that I will remake myself as many times in the future as I have in my past.
I needed to be reminded by these two wise women that Hope is absurd, but neceesary. That Hope is as simple as deciding it’s better than its stingy cousin Depression.
I needed someone to remind me why hope is as critical as oxygen: rockets of hope propel us toward action, fuel joy, spark moments of grace.
I needed to be told by powerful women who are primarily identified as writers, not healers, that breath = hope and doh!!! You get more air out in nature. I needed these brilliant healer-women to tell me how urgent it is for us to get into nature as much as possible to give us what is needed: the capacity to hold vigil and court, to take on guerrilla knitting and wheatpasting with gusto, to knock on doors and tend to our gardens and feed our families and listen to a stranger’s story until she says thank you.
Nature gives us hope because in her, we see the cycle and we know that just because we are in the time of decay doesn’t mean we’ll always be there.
Seeds rest before they germinate and simultaneously root down and sprout up. They grow into something beyond themselves. They flower and they fruit, yes, but after that, they also decay and rot and fall to earth, where they become part of the humus. Their deaths result in the possibilities of new birth, after a long season of stillness.
From the very chaotic prime matter of our lives, we compose a life for ourselves, said anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson, not despite interruptions in the cycle, but because of their very non-linearness. In the natural order of things, we too grow and blossom flower and fall and find a sense of deep humility ear to the ground. From there, in the listening that comes from stillness, we slowly root down and sprout up.
Just because we’re in the fall season – or, as in my case, the fall of my life – doesn’t mean that the dawn won’t rise, the spring won’t come.
What gives you hope as we enter the season of letting go, of the stillness in the earth that seems interminable?
For me (and for Eve and Anne), writing is one of those hope-giving practices which is as much about silence and listening as it is creating and re-envisioning. If you want support in getting yourself to make the time to write, join me at my new mindfulness + writing class (and not that you need their approval, but even the NY Times is on board with journaling) — or better yet, write and yoga and rest and heal with me in the natural wonder that is the Belizean rainforest in December.
With love, Yael