Meditations for an Age of Despair

From the introduction to Your Daily Shot of Hope: Meditations for an Age of Despair

If you are among the millions who have been thrown into despair by the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, by the passage of Brexit in Great Britain, and the rise of authoritarianism and hate around the world, this book is for you. If you wonder how you can possibly keep fighting back, this book offers a place to rest, recharge, know that you are not alone, and remember that, yes, you do have the power to create change. If you are struggling with despair in your personal life, this book is also for you because ridiculous, cockeyed hope helps us heal. Hope fuels us. It enables us to go on.

It’s easy to misunderstand hope. After all, isn’t hope supposed to be something for the uninformed and the childish because who else would be silly enough to have hope in this nasty world? But I’m not talking about hope that springs from denial. True hope stands on a bedrock of nitty-gritty reality. Pretending that pain doesn’t exist doesn’t make it disappear. Claiming that the loss of a child, a spouse, a job, or our illusions isn’t really a loss doesn’t lessen our suffering. We can even make ourselves feel worse if we beat ourselves up for hurting when we think we’re not supposed to be in pain. Real hope provides room to grieve and acknowledges pain. Real hope recognizes challenges even as it thumbs its nose at the conventional wisdom that claims we can’t succeed.

Of course, there are days when the idea of hope can seem flat-out absurd. How can we trust that something good will happen, how can we maintain a feeling of trust in the future (as dictionaries define the word hope) if we don’t see the evidence that it will? But then again, how can we not hope?

Without hope, there never would have been a civil rights movement, women’s movement, LGBTQ rights movement, or labor movement. Segregation would still be the law in the United States, women wouldn’t be able to vote anywhere, same-sex marriage would be universally banned, and neither the 40-hour workweek nor protections against child labor would exist anywhere in the world. Without hope, slavery would never have been challenged and defeated, dictators would never have been overthrown, and the founding fathers and mothers of the United States would never ever have conceived of a republic based on the idea that all people are created equal. Without hope, I would never have survived a turbulent childhood or have had the energy to raise my son after my spouse died.

This modest book is the first of four planned volumes of meditations that seek to explore and evoke the feeling of hope. Each volume contains ninety-three mediations, enough for you to read one a day for more than three months. Taken together, these four volumes provide more than a year of inspiration. Consider these meditations to be like vitamin pills. Take one a day to strengthen your soul.

I composed these short poems to heal my own despair, which erupted anew on the night of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. What I experienced that night felt like the hopelessness I knew growing up with an alcoholic and abusive father. As a youngster, I constantly had to answer the question, how can I find the courage to go on? Every day brought a different answer. Some strategies worked better than others. Over time I learned that what worked best for me was to find a way to evoke a feeling of hope or love. Even a fleeting sense of one of those emotions helped. Not only did these feelings keep me upright and functioning, but they also gave me the energy to succeed in ways that seemed impossible at the time. The following meditations employ the techniques I learned. May they bring you peace and energy. Above all, may they help you find a renewed sense of hope.

From the Meditations:

Day 4

Where did we get the idea
The only faith that matters is faith in God?
God can be at the center of faith, of course.
If that works for you, embrace it.
But faith.
Solid, sweet, so-real-you-can-touch-it faith,
Is trust.
Nothing more.
Nothing less.
Trust that the sun will come up tomorrow,
Birds will sing shortly before dawn,
And we frail, confused humans will rise.

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