It’s Thursday, late afternoon. I sit in my basement home office working on writing this newsletter. I’ve decided that I’m ok with the style of this newsletter being a little disjointed. I’m getting more comfortable with the genre of “pen-pal rabbi.”
Through my door, I hear Emmett’s 13-year-old voice repeating phrases into his gaming headset. “What’s his range? What’s his range?” “Go over there, over there.” “OK. OK. OK. OK.” (In my day, my friends and I were in the same room.)
Annie, 11, is at the kitchen table folding tiny colorful papers into minuscule origami cranes as she rewatches an episode of Parks and Recreation of which she knows every line.
Jane is upstairs on a computer, zoning out after yet another day of back-to-back teletherapy clients. If there ever was a time people need a grief and loss counselor, it’s now.
Here I am. I am working from a loose outline of index cards taped to my whiteboard. I have faith that after enough rounds of edits it will be good enough to go out on Monday.
Faith, though, is not the same as hope.
These days, despair is rampant.
We are living a nightmare.
The three qualities of a nightmare are:
- A lack of control
- No end in sight
We have all three right now.
These are hard times.
There is little we can do to fix much.
Normal isn’t coming back any time soon.
Nonetheless, I find myself expecting to wake up and find out this was but a dream.
You know what helps? Gratitude.
I email five things for which I’m thankful each day to two friends, In turn, they copy me on the ones they send to their people.
Gratitude, among other benefits, ameliorates hopelessness.
Gratitude tempers despair.
Attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero:
Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues, but the progenitor of all virtues.
Gratitude gives birth to all other virtue.
Gratitude—even the simplest of gratitude—takes nothing away acknowledging the suffering in the world.
The shifts of our gaze to gratitude moves us to look out the window pane of enoughness—as opposed to the window pane of lack, scarcity, and complaints. And thereby gratitude changes our attitude and thereby the world.
Gratitude in the present opens space for future hope.
With this in mind, I’m going to ask you to again participate in the exercise I sent out last Monday.
- Go to the messaging app on your phone or tablet. (Email works, too.)
- Scroll down three or four pages of recent messages
- Randomly select an entry
- Write to that person something like the suggestion below:
I was just randomly thinking about you and wanted to take the extra few seconds to send you a message so you would know.
- Repeat until you have sent five messages
Acknowledging people, even in a simple text message, changes the lives not only of those people, but also of the people with whom they interact. It changes your existence as well.
So, right now, do it.
Send five messages.
Even if you don’t come back to read the rest of this article about hope.
Vaclav Havel, the former popular leader of Czechoslovakia, wrote about hope that I want to share. (Havel spent some years in prison, which informed his outlook.)
The kind of hope I often think about (especially in situations that are particularly hopeless, such as prison) I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us, or we don’t. . . . Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. . . .
Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpromising the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. In short, I think that the deepest and most important form of hope, the only one that can keep us above water and urge us to good works, and the only true source of the breathtaking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts, is something we get, as it were, from ‘elsewhere.’ It is also this hope, above all, that gives us the strength to live and continually to try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.
Hope has nothing to do with what’s happening around us. It’s something internal.
Hope isn’t optimism.
Hope is doing the right thing no matter what.
The world comes at you with hate, a quarantine, or other, you come back steadfast with love and good works.
That’s what hope is.
Knowing that doing the right thing—not saying the snarky comment, not adding hate or hurt—is the right thing.
This is the message of Easter. This is the message of Passover.
We are not slaves to the external circumstances around us.
We have all been freed. We have all been redeemed. We have all been saved.
(Please don’t get hung up on the word saved and miss the point.)
As long as we hold on to what is important.
As long as we all are kind to others and to ourselves to the utmost of our ability.
As long as we choose hope, true hope.
Then the world—or at least our world—is worth living in.
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