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Finding Hope in Hopeless Times

“On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree”

~W.S. Merwin

How can you build resilience? This is a question that is at the forefront of many people’s minds right now. As we have learned in the last few years, there is very little we can do when the universe decides to throw us a curveball. We can’t stop pandemics through sheer will. We can’t prevent loss and grief from finding our front door. We can’t keep tragedy from carving inroads into our hearts.

But we can learn to build resilience. We can find ways to endure tragedy, ways that don’t involve simply ‘white-knuckling’ it through the experience and living in a constant state of fight-flight-or-freeze. But this decision has to be intentional. Building resilience is a conscious choice. Finding strength in hard times doesn’t just happen overnight. Look at what happened during the Covid-19 pandemic: Many people coped with the fear and isolation by reaching for self-coping strategies like substance abuse or over-eating or social media addiction. Others actively realized “Wait, these choices aren’t helping me to cope with the grief I am feeling,” and they chose a different route. Maybe they got into yoga or hiking or woodworking. Maybe they learned new recipes or started writing a book.

What’s the difference between people who shatter during hopeless times and people who learn to rebuild during hopeless times? It’s not that one group of people is ‘better’ than the other, or even that some people are weaker than others.

I think it very simply comes down to faith. In his celebrated poem “Place,” poet W.S. Merwin wrote, “On the last day of the world/I would want to plant a tree.” This beautiful line has always deeply touched me, and I think it gives us a roadmap for the choices we have when we are enduring seemingly hopeless times. There is another famous proverb which echoes this sentiment: ‘Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.’

The lesson in these lines is clear: We have no control over the darkness. We have no control over when our last day on earth will be. But we can control the attitude we bring to these dark times. We can be the person planting trees and lighting candles, or the person who is bitter and aggressive or self-destructive.

But in order to be the kind of person who lights candles in a disaster zone, you have to have faith. Faith that there is still good in the world. Faith that the universe is supporting you and lifting you towards your highest goals and aspirations. Faith that you are infinitely worthy, that the people around you are infinitely worthy, and faith in your own power and purpose here.

On my latest episode of “The Language of Love,” I sit down and talk with my friend Sarah D. Little. Sarah is someone who deeply inspires me because she’s endured some of life’s toughest hardships, and she’s been so broken and battered by her experiences that she even reached a point where she was considering ending her life.

But, in this time of utter darkness, Sarah had an epiphany. As she stared out of her kitchen window, she was suddenly overwhelmed with images and memories of a book she read over 20 years ago: Cormac McCarthy’s “The Crossing.” She then became awash in these beautiful memories of all of the books she had read by McCarthy, and as she sat down in her kitchen and began writing down what she remembered, she found that a peaceful state of transcendence came over her. It was as if the words and images she had read by McCarthy were buried in her soul and came to life right when she needed them the most.

As part of her healing process, Sarah wrote a ‘love’ letter to Cormac McCarthy, and then she began writing letters to all of the authors, speakers, poets, philosophers, artists, actors, and more who had deeply touched and beautified her life. This grew into a YouTube series where she shares her love letters with the world and invites viewers to find their own path of gratitude and celebration.

Not everyone’s healing story will be the same. While Sarah found her light in literature, you may find that your light in the darkness could be gardening or farming. Maybe your light will be helping others and devoting your free time to serving those in need. Maybe your light will be yoga or fitness or hiking.

I firmly believe that we all have something within us that has been cultivated and created to get us through the dark nights of the soul. We all have these gifts. We all have these catalysts for joy and connection within us. Think of it as our life-saving supplies that we must break open in times of emergency.

But that’s the kicker: We have to be willing and able to trust that the life-saving supplies are within us, and we must have the fortitude and will to then break that box open and explore its contents. We must try to do so without judgment or criticism. No matter how ‘silly’ you might find the experience at first, lean into what you find: Even if it is something that feels sort of juvenile like flying a kite or making friendship bracelets. Trust that the universe knows what it is doing and that your intuition is leading you on the right path. Sarah had no idea when she sat down to write a love letter to one of her favorite authors that the experience would lead her to discover her calling and that she would inspire so many people who were struggling in their own darkness. But she trusted the process and let her intuition guide her.

Now, I invite you to do the same. What gifts are locked in your ‘in case of emergency, break open’ box? What surprises do you have left in store for yourself? What candles are waiting for your flame? We can’t change the scary and unpredictable events which can happen in this world, but we can change how we react and behave during these times of tragedy. I, for one, want to be found dancing on the beach on the last day of the world. What about you?

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