These are the days of senseless shootings in Las Vegas and elsewhere, of destructive hurricanes, and earthquakes, of ongoing wars and potential new ones. These are days when hope may be elusive.
Hope for what? Here is the key. What do we hope for? Freedom from suffering? Riches? Success? Suppose we hope for simple things such as peace of mind. Or just peace. It seems more and more difficult to base that hope on anything substantial.
I often find myself unimpressed with our species. We appear to be a violent, self-centered species bent of destruction. And yet I know from Viktor Frankl and others how important is hope in the face of tragedy.
But hope is empty unless it has a real foundation. I can’t just passively hope for a “better day”. I must base that hope on something tangible.
Ironically, as a person who doesn’t like people much, I end up finding my hope in other people. One of the enduring images for me from the recent Hurricane Harvey was the long line of boats heading to Houston to help with rescue. It reminded me of the miracle of Dunkirk, another instance of people at their best. The recent hurricanes, earthquakes, and forest fires have been rich with small stories of people helping one another. Similar stories are emerging from Las Vegas, some of them reflecting people sacrificing their lives to protect loved ones.
Somehow our species also seems to be able to rise above fear and the instinct to survive. The results are dramatic and very moving. That is part of the blessing of my own work as a psychologist. I meet regularly with people who try to rise above tragedy and hardship, trying to face such stresses with dignity and courage. I think of a man dying of AIDS telling me he looked forward to stepping into the light. I think of a combat soldier holding his dying friend in his arms, trying to comfort in the midst of bullets and bombs. These and many other heroes help me find hope.
Beyond that, if I have hope that peace is possible, I must try to live that life of peace in my own way, embracing the charge to love my enemy. And at dark moments, I remind myself of the words at the end of Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” As Morgan Freeman says at the very end of the film, “I hope…I hope.”
Reflection: How do you sustain hope in your own life?