Hope: A Light in the Darkness

In difficult times, hope can be the one thing that keeps our spirits afloat when all else seems lost. Though you may find yourself in a hole that is dark and deep and seems infinite, it won’t last forever. Someday you will look back and remember that time and place, and how difficult it was. Through the seasons of confusion, loneliness, despair, fear or anger, hope can keep us clinging to the edge of the life raft.

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness,” shares Desmond Tutu, a champion for human rights in South Africa. Martin Luther King, Jr., fighting for the equality of blacks in America, says, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”  The Bible asserts that faith, hope, and love are the three main spiritual gifts. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist peace activist, writes, “Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”

Hearing a doctor say, “I’m sorry, there is nothing more we can do except keep you comfortable,” or “That treatment isn’t working in the way we’d hoped” can destroy that one thin thread of hope holding everything together. Where there was optimism, despair rushes in. Where there was faith, a sense of doom. All, it appears, is lost.

Yet by some mysterious grace, the death of one hope gives rise to another. Hope may be, as Emily Dickinson says, “the thing with feathers”, but it will not be stifled. Although the hope may have previously been for a cure, now it could be to hold the first grandchild, as yet unborn. Hope that the new treatment would be effective may become a hope to be reconciled with the sister who hasn’t been spoken to for decades. In the last days, sometimes the only hope left is for an end to suffering. In that dark place, even a dim light shines brightly.

But, as Eve Joseph writes, “Hope can be a thief.” I learned what that meant when I was with a woman whose husband was dying of cancer. Each day he grew weaker, but she resolutely clung to the hope there would be a cure. She refused to be present to what was unfolding before her. In the end, her husband died without her companionship, and she felt angry and betrayed.

Another group of siblings also hoped for a cure. Their father had suffered a severe stroke. Yet, as the days went by and their father’s struggle increased, hope changed. In the first week, they were optimistic he would be able to go home. By the second week, they hoped he would continue to recognize them. Next, that he would find relief from his restlessness. Finally, they hoped he would die peacefully. Rather than being a fickle friend, it was hope that gave them the strength to show up to each difficult day.

If you find yourself in a place where you have lost all hope, stay present. From the death of one hope another will rise. Disappointment is finite; hope is infinite.

Written by Margaret Verschuur