Without a doubt, one of my favorite authors is J.R.R. Tolkien and I love this quote from The Lord of the Rings, “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands hope is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater!” What an apt description for these times in which we live – “the world is indeed full of peril.” Seriously, when you think matters cannot get worse – they do. As a kid growing up, I remember hearing about bad things and atrocities from afar, but now it’s like we live in the midst of unrelenting evil, turmoil, fear and peril. And it is taking its toll, especially on our children and youth. Recent research reports are sounding an acute alarm bell: childhood depression, anxiety and mental disorders are rising rapidly!
Nonetheless, Tolkien’s statement rings true, “but still there is much that is fair [... ] hope [...] grows [...]” It is essential that we keep the light of hope burning brightly to stand against the pervasive infusion of darkness.
I admit, I too easily lapse into the mire of concern produced by the continual onslaught of despairing, discouraging bad news. So, I am really writing this blog for me! As I have stated in several articles over the past few months, dwelling on the negative only produces more negativity and does nothing to advance personal or societal health and wellbeing. It can become a vicious cycle, like a whirlpool sucking us into a black hole of incapacitation and indifference. But we don’t need to succumb; instead we must overcome!
I think it was my grandmother who used to say, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, which is why we call it the present.” Whoever wrote that, what a great pun; and a wonderful first step in becoming a beacon of hope. Encounter each new day as a precious gift. It is a new opportunity to counteract darkness with light. Frame each day by thinking: who can I bless, what good deed can I perform, how can I purvey hopefulness and encouragement, what hurt soul can I console, how can I put a positive spin on a negative situation, and how can I brighten someone else’s day!
I once had a dear friend, Carl Schmidt, who exemplified this lifestyle. His standard greeting was “Isn’t it great to be alive?” This saint could find something positive in every person, and in every situation; and was a consummate encourager. I don’t think I ever saw him angry – although several times with righteous indignation--nor treat others with any disrespect. He humbled me! Carl was a true gentleman, gentle, kind, considerate, with an amazing sense of humor, and the most positive person I have had the privileged to know. He treated every day as a precious gift.
Nobel laureate, William Faulkner, wrote, “You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” Step two in becoming a bright light of hope is learning to transcend fear with vision and fortitude. Hope is creating a new horizon for others to strive for, but they won’t get there if you don’t lead them by the example of your life. Complacency, stagnation and lethargy are symptoms of hopelessness; not seeing something better to strive for. There are leaders and there are followers – being a leader isn’t as difficult as it may appear. Every one of us has dreams to pursue and crises to overcome; both present opportunities to demonstrate courage, tenacity and leadership.
Leading is nothing more than “losing sight of the shore”--i.e., your fears--and pressing onward. By doing so, you become inspirational to others to do likewise! President Obama said it well, “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”
Being a beacon of hope is so much about attitude, which acts like a switch that turns our light on or off. Most people are familiar with the story of Anne Frank, a Jewish teenager who spent years hiding with her family from the Nazis during WWII. During her time of sequestration, she wrote her famous “diary” before she was finally exterminated at age 15. What a light she and her diary have become. Her simple, yet profound words need to be embedded in our thinking: “I don't think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.” What an amazing attitude to have in the midst of the most horrific of circumstances. It seems that our nature is to dwell on the negative and be absorbed with self-pity. Yes, we dwell in much darkness, but there is always beauty and something fair to discern, something positive to feed the flame of hope – look for it!
As we look at the face of a new year, let us not be overtaken with bleakness, darkness, uncertainty or despair. To the contrary, let us sharpen our resolve to dispel darkness with the brightness of our hope; to illuminate a path forward to a new place, a better future for others to joyfully follow! A road built with hope is far more pleasant for the traveler than a road built on despair.