December 23, 2017 at 9:45 AM 1 comment

In Dante’s Inferno the sign over the entrance to hell says: Give up hope, all ye who enter here.  Based on my experience as a therapist, I think Dante got it reversed. You don’t have to give up hope if you enter hell. When you have no hope, you are in hell. Being hopeless is a hell all its own.

Probably, in my time listening to people’s stories, the most gut-wrenching challenge I have had is working with people who have no hope. There’s no where to go. I particularly saw a hopelessness in PTSD survivors who were traumatized as children. Crazy mothers, abusive fathers, frightening situations of war outside your home or inside your home, leave a child closed off and shut down. Children who do not receive the safety and security every child needs, and who don’t learn to laugh and play and pick themselves up when they fall over, and get their boo-boos kissed, and their feelings respected — in other words, kids who are abused– turn off their hope receptors. Because they have lived without hope, they learn to stop expecting it and forget how to receive it.

Inside a healthy child who grows to be a healthy adult is that mysterious, regenerative gene called “resiliency.” Resiliency is nothing more and nothing less than HOPE. Resiliency is hanging in, hanging on, knowing that the storm will pass, and, that “the sun will come out tomorrow.” You can bet your bottom dollar on that!

Hope is the belief we see demonstrated all around us all the time. Last winter, my fourteen foot high eucalyptus tree froze. We didn’t have much hope, but we had enough, my neighbor Bob Anderson and I, that he cut off the top twelve dead feet of branches and trimmed around the trunk. It looked pitiful. Then last spring we met at the tree to decide whether to dig it out or . . . tender new shoots of eucalyptus sprouted from the dead-looking trunk. A six foot tall eucalyptus tree is bravely facing winter once again this year.

My mother used to say that when someone dies in a family, you can start looking for the new baby who’ll be coming along. Life leads to death which leads to new life. “All my life’s a circle,” Harry Chapin sang before he was killed in his little VW beetle on a New Jersey expressway. I like to picture him singing as he transitioned between worlds, and I know that the song he sang was, “All my life’s a circle. Sunrise and sundown. The moon rolls through the nighttime, and the daybreak comes around. All my life’s a circle. I can’t tell you why. The seasons spinning round again, the years keep rolling by. It seems like I’ve been here before. I can’t remember when, but I got this funny feeling that we’ll all get together again.”

I recently read a book entitled,  The Boy Who Knew Too Much. It’s the story of a child who, at the age of two, started being obsessed with baseball and started talked about things he could not have known: he knew every detail of the life of Lou Gehrig. Its a fascinating and thought-provoking book. Luckily, his mother, instead of shutting him up, allowed him to express the truth inside him.

I don’t have any answers. As Zen Roshi and Jesuit priest Robert Kennedy says, “Answers are dead things.” It is only the questions that matter. We need to make it our life work to come home with a question each day. Dr. Ruth Lewis from the University of Akron once told me she never went home at the end of a day without learning something new. She admitted that sometimes she had to go home really late. You’ve also heard the saying, “There is nothing harder to open than a closed mind.”

All of which is to say: hope is about keeping the mystery alive. Hope is about not needing to know, but only needing to learn and marvel and quest — adventure after adventure. We need to keep trimming down the dead branches — the things in our lives that are killing our spirits — and then, in the vacuum we create, waiting patiently for the new growth. Nature abhors a vacuum. New growth will come.

Whether our hope receptors collapsed when we were children, or whether it was later in life that our innocence, open hearts and open minds were torn asunder doesn’t really matter. Life demands of us that we make choices. Today a thirteen year old child refused to let her father off the hook when I pointed out that his parents had been critical and judgmental and that was where he learned it. She looked at me as though I should know better. “We all make choices,” she told me. “He could have chosen a different path.”

Ultimately, we have to stop waiting for things to land in our laps: love, happiness, peace, hope — and we need to choose to be loving, happy, peaceful, hopeful. We can do this, it seems to me, by focusing on the moon. The moon is always in the sky. Sometimes we see it. Sometimes the clouds cover it. Sometimes it waxes, and sometimes it wanes. Sometimes it is small, and we really have to look. Sometimes it is big, and we couldn’t miss it if we tried.

Hope, love, happiness, and peace are always present if we can suspend our need for answers and embrace the beauty and mystery of the questions.

Scientists have determined that there are over a million galaxies. We live on one of the million: the Milky Way. We live on one of the planets in the Milky Way: Earth. There are seven billion people on this one planet. We are one of the seven billion people on one of the planets in one of the millions of galaxies. And two thousand years ago, although this one planet has been here for seven million years, a man named Jesus was born. He came to tell us that God, His Father, knows every hair on the head of every man, woman, and child on this one planet in this one galaxy.

Okay. I’m done. I have no answers. I have only questions and an open mind and an open heart for what is to come. What am I waiting for? Tomorrow. What am I hoping for? Tomorrow. What do I love? Tomorrow. What makes me happy? Tomorrow. Why? Because I don’t know. As Harry Chapin sings: “There’s no straight lines make up my life, and all my roads have bends. There’s no clear cut beginnings, and so far no dead ends. Well, I’ve found you a thousand times, I guess you’ve done the same, but then we lose each other, it’s just like a child’s game. But as I find you here again, the thoughts runs through my mind: OUR LOVE IS LIKE A CIRCLE. LET’S GO ROUND ONE MORE TIME.”

With every Christmas wish for love, peace, happiness and hope. Susan


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? PEACE? What Are You Waiting For? The Real YOU?

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Marsha  |  December 23, 2017 at 10:16 AM

    Beautiful gift of hope in your writing. Thank you, Susan.


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