Tag Archives: Hope

Antidote to Disillusionment

“Always have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.”

Maya Angelou

In what do I place my trust? This profound, existential question is, for an inherently trusting person, difficult to quantify. Before the pandemic, I trusted my alarm to go off, my car to start, and my phone to keep me on task. I trusted there would be money in the bank, food in the fridge, and job security for my partner and myself. From the sturdiness of my home and the safety of my Midwestern burg, I trusted the sun to rise and set on another ordinary day.

Though content in my white-privileged, middle-class life, I wasn’t blind to the underbelly of society and systemic injustice. I heard the voices of the assaulted and echoed the rumblings of insurgence, reeling from the daily onslaught of atrocity. ​​But I always believed, I trusted right would prevail, convinced that good people outnumbered those in the videos posted to my Twitter feed.

I always trusted right would prevail.

In this post-pandemic reality, I no longer rise at 4:00 am to teach at the gym. Most days my car sits in the garage. The double-booked calendar on my phone is wiped clean. Our bank account boasts fewer credits, but my family, unlike many others, has access to most of Maslow’s Hierarchy. Self-actualization has taken a hit, but I trust we’ll navigate the unknown and even embrace opportunities for growth. The real threat is to my trust in all that’s holy, to my belief that the arc of the moral universe, even if it is long, will ultimately bend toward justice.

It seems to me the arc has flattened and that curve has been replaced by a different kind: the rising COVID deaths and obliterated incomes, mounting police brutality and vitriolic social chaos, stripped resources and the abandonment of the vulnerable, and the plunging, bottomless corruption of governmental powers poisoning and choking the will of the people. Jaded, my faith is rocked, my trust, fractured.

Image by Fajrul Falah from Pixabay

The arc of the moral universe has flattened.

I’ve been broken-hearted before, grieving and shaken off my trusted path, but those shock waves only reverberated through my own small biosphere. This pain is collective. We are dizzied by the cacophony of the masses and drowned by the firehose of unending crisis.

Yet. We’re still here. The world remains in vibrant perpetuation. The planet continues to turn on its axis. The sun sets on parents everywhere who tuck their children into bed and provide, with their very presence, a sentient trust allowing their babies the sleep of the innocent. And in the morning, when the sun rises, hope renews itself.

We’re still here.

Beneath the rubble of my former paradigm, an ember waits to be fanned into flame, like a jewel in the lotus. Om mani padme hum. I chant the Buddhist mantra transforming empathy from a concept in the mind to a oneness in the heart.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Nelson Mandela, leader of the anti-apartheid movement, who endured 27 years of imprisonment said, “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other—not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”

In the morning hope renews itself.

In that bond lies the answer, an antidote to disillusionment. Last week, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman wrote, “When we come together, we change the world. We are stronger as a woven rope than as unbound threads.” 

It dawns on me that my crisis of faith is a solitary journey, but the audacity of hope begs amalgamation. Barack Obama, speaking at the funeral of John Lewis, reminded us “. . . in our beloved community, we do not walk alone.” However isolated I’ve become, I am connected to the web of all that is. Detachment is simply not possible.

When it’s quiet, I hear a whisper that says, “Your ability to trust persists. It has not been snuffed out. Look here,” the voice beckons. “Look how your deepest truths hold fast.”

In our beloved community, we do not walk alone.

I peer within and observe. The strength of the invisible tether strung between me and my children, no matter what, no matter where. The devotion of my husband to walk our shared path. The self-possession of the birds that flit and twitter from branch to tree to nest, guided by instinct, protecting their young. The promise of the seasons, each rising to its natural arc before giving way to the next. ​

The exhilaration of crisp mountain air and the wide open view from the summit. The meditation of waves on the shore as they crest and break, crest and break, and the merging of the horizon, not the edge of the world, but merely the limit of our vision. The wonder of the night sky, a black expanse of diamond stars. The reverence for my microscopic place in it all as a child of the universe.  

Look how your deepest truths hold fast.

The resilience of the human heart. The healing salve of touch and the warmth of skin, dissolving layers of anger and hurt. The nurturance of a cocooning embrace and the refuge found in strong arms. The penetration of eyes locking, where souls are bared and secrets unkept. The radiance of a smile bestowed and the joy of reciprocation. The song of the wind chimes signaling ancestors are near, keeping watch.

As I knit the broken pieces together, I find my core beliefs have endured. That we are inextricably linked. That shouldering another’s burden will lighten our own and accepting an offered hand is not cause for shame, but gratitude. That the alchemy of a singular encounter can spark hope and catch fire. That love, the most powerful force in the universe, is the agent of change. And change, the only constant.

My core beliefs have endured.

As Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

I remember now. I remember to trust what I feel: a thrum in my bones, the cadence of my heartbeat, a familiar, yet unnamable quickening at my center. The only way forward is together, seeking the light, becoming the light. From my cupped hands, I gingerly place my trust in us, for we are the ones, and there is no more waiting.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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Filed under Community, COVID-19, Enlightenment, Faith, Family, Grief, Hope, Letting Go, Loss, Motherhood, Pandemic

The Way Home

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I went to church this morning—on my couch. A dutiful daughter, I spent the first half of my life in religious prostration, and then I left. But detachment from dogma meant disconnect from community and I wandered, people-less into my middle-age. In recent years, I sometimes sat, shyly, noncommittally, on the back row of a new church I discovered, an un-church. The Unitarian Universalists. 

The UU church, nurturing spirit and service, brings a solace of words and music and familiar faces to my living room via Zoom on this second Sunday of social distancing. Congregants come like moths to the chalice flame. Greetings scroll up from the chat box as joiners bask in the warmth of shared hearts and minds, if not bodies.

Sensitive to surrounding energy, I’m challenged at the best of times to recognize what is mine and what is not. I get that from my mother, I suppose, an empath who could not witness a child harshly disciplined in the grocery store without weeping. My body picks up stray vibrations like a musical instrument and amplifies emotions I cannot name. In this time of global crisis, the volume is deafening. 

Reverend Molly reads poetry. The words are gentle hands untying the knots that bind my chest, loosening the resolve I wear as armor. Awareness of my unawareness blooms; I’ve been holding my breath and I didn’t even know it. With room to expand, distress spirals up toward the open air and I am crying. Copious tears trace their way slowly over my cheekbones and drip off my jaw.

I cannot stop, but even if I could, I would not. This grief is my prayer. 

On day 8 our family has cut our losses, nursed our disappointments, regrouped, and hunkered down for the duration. Cancellations and interrupted routines require precarious adjustment. Intimately, we hover protectively over our own. Sydney, 20, with Down syndrome, who suffered a near fatal pneumonia when she was 2 is particularly at risk. Melissa, 35, is 3 years out from breast cancer, including the full-on assault of chemo. I worry that her immune system is not fully recovered. And Jeremy, 33, is a physician’s assistant, on the front lines, testing and treating by day, returning home to his wife and 3 babies at night. I wonder if his PPE will last and if it can protect him from harm. 

Our fears are mitigated by gratitude for good fortune and blessings abundant: the opportunity to work from home, continued income, food, and shelter, and togetherness. All shall be well for us. What I feel today is bigger than myself.

The overwhelming scope of collective human experience rises in my throat like a coyote’s mournful cry in the night.

I have become those who are ill and those whose very lives are forfeit. I am their loved ones who rail at the injustice of their loss. I am those whose businesses are failing, finances lost, futures uncertain. I am everyone who is alone and afraid. Boundaries and borders blur. I am more than the inhabitant of this one small life. I am everyone.

How can it be true that this intensity is not mine? I think perhaps it belongs to me more than ever.

For in it, I sense a seismic shift; the world will simply not be the same on the other side of this. And what hangs in the balance, could this be the answer we’ve been praying for? Might it be the transcendence we’ve searched for? The salvation of humankind? 

There’s meaning here, an invitation. As the centrifugal force pinning us to our lives suddenly stops, radical change isn’t only possible, it is inevitable. It feels like a reckoning, a nudge as we lurch and tilt toward a tipping point, hanging on by our fingernails, poised to cascade over the edge into a cavernous unknown. But in freefall, we grasp and clutch with fear only to find it is in the letting go that we are safe. And finally, fully alive.

Spirit of hope, help me.
I can’t seem to find my way back to your realm.
I’ve been wandering in labyrinths, running into dead ends,
facing down monsters, losing my way.
Ariadne’s thread only tangles my feet and leaves my fingers raw.

Spirit of hope, ground me.
I’ve lost my bearings on what’s real, who I am, how I got here, why it matters.
Unreality makes a poor compass.
I remember to look up lest I get caught off guard,
but such preparations mean little to a soul suffering vertigo.

Spirit of hope, steady me.
Maybe the only way forward is to stay still.
Perhaps if I rest my bones exactly where I am instead of
scrabbling for purchase, searching for loopholes, willing myself on,
perhaps the dust will settle enough for a path to reappear,
a path that needn’t be tended or beautiful, just barely discernible.

Spirit of hope, guide me.
You dwell in the turn around between inhale and exhale,
a moment of trust that pulls me into the future.
I’ve been looking for something more grand, more obvious,
more compelling.
Help me recognize the promise and the flickering signs of life,
of love, of hope.
Help me remember that my body already knows the way home.

Lindasusan Ulrich

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Filed under Breast Cancer, Down syndrome, Family, Gratitude, Grief, Loss, Motherhood, Pandemic, Stress