In the darkest days of our lives, in the darkest of winter, for as long as humans have registered emotions and named them, we have hoped. While the idea of hope can be used as a platitude, like when we say, "You gotta have hope!" offering an easy consolation to a suffering soul, hope also implies action, as in, "To hope." I think of Hope as a verb. In fact, I think hope is the energizing element that sustains the indomitable human spirit.
At this time of year, stories of human hope abound. One of my favorites is the story of the Maccabees and Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights. It is a compelling narrative, complete with a band of rebels who staged guerrilla warfare against Hellenized Jewish leaders, who had allowed the Temple in Jerusalem to be defiled. Judas Maccabeus was a particularly brilliant military leader and through surprise, cunning, and a little luck, he routed the armies that the evil Greek emperor, Antiochus, sent to crush the rebellion. It is at this point the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days took place. According to the Talmud, unadulterated and undefiled pure olive oil with the seal of the high priest was necessary to re-light the Temple Menorah, and the menorah was required to burn throughout the night, every night. The story goes that the heroes could only find one flask of pure oil, which was only enough to burn for one day. To replace it required an extensive process that lasted eight days. The miracle oil lasted just long enough to prepare the new undefiled oil.
Today, one candle is lit on the menorah for each night of Hanukkah, to commemorate the miracle, one light for every night the oil burned. The event is historical, though the miracle perhaps is not as well documented. I can imagine that as each night passed and more lights on the Temple Menorah were lit in the darkness, the hopes and joys of the Jewish people were also lit as the realization of the Macabeean victory set in. By the time all lights were burning, the brilliance of the miracle - that the Jews had regained their religious freedom in spite of great odds - would have been obvious to all. The Macabeean Jews had accomplished the improbable, their, "Hope beyond hope." The light in the hearts and souls of these Jewish people must have been visibly radiant.
You can find at least fourteen definitions of hope, if, as I did, you look the word up in an old-fashioned dictionary - the print kind. The root of hope is keu, the same root in which the word curve comes from. It means a change, like going a different way. In The Miracle Chase I share a poem in which I write about hope as if Hope were my friend. She runs ahead of me and shows me that the future is there, lying just ahead on a path I can't yet see, "just between the mountains." Hope kept me going in some pretty dark days that required a course correction. We all need a friend like that; we all need that kind of Hope.
Allan Hamilton, who is a doctor, shares this abut hope in his TED talk. "Hope is the combination of ability and power. Hope is the ability to see a future that's better than the present and it is the power to try to make it happen." It is powerful medicine. Study after study shows that there are better outcomes for health if one has hope. Dr. Hamilton feels no one should be able to take away another's hope, including doctors, no matter what the tests show, no matter how dire the circumstances may seem.
What I've learned about hope, is that it requires personal engagement. You aren't really flexing your hope muscles if you are passively waiting for something out there to happen. "To strive for, to wish, i.e. "to hope" is to want something to happen but it's more than that. It's believing something CAN happen. Young Greta Thunberg, whose campaigning on climate change has garnered international recognition, including being selected as the 2019 Person of the Year by Time Magazine, has said, "I don't want your hope. I don't want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic, and act as if the house was on fire." I hope she really means that we need more than hope to change course and go a different way, for we must have hope.
Martin Luther says that "Everything that is done in this world is done by hope." If this is true, then what kind of expectation should we have for ourselves and others around the action of hope? What is the connection between finding new ways to work for change and letting our own internal hope-light shine?
For if hope is a verb, surely, we are its nouns. There would be no Festival of the Lights without the Maccabees. We are the lights that mobilize hope. We need the fighters and we need the advocates and the activists who tell us hope is not enough, but we will not see change without hope.
Tonight, as I look out to the dark night on one of the longest nights of the year, I note the abundance of stars in the sky and the number of candles and bright lights in my home, helping me celebrate the season. May the lights of the season illuminate your path ahead, and as Katie, Joan and I did, may you find many miracles along the way that inspire you to hope.
For part of the year, I live next door to Carmel, CA where Clint Eastwood is a fixture. In 1983, he spoke the words made famous by his character Dirty Harry, "Go ahead, make my day." In point of fact, Clint makes any number of people's day by his casual appearance around town as he goes about his day-to-day life. Instead of the intent in Dirty Harry's signature phrase, I prefer to think about what would it take to make someone's day in a good way?
In miracle jargon, we call this being the miracle. Sometimes we are the right person in the right place at the right time in someone else's life. We have a unique opportunity to make their day, or their year, or even change their future. For the Pilgrims, this was Massasoit, the Sachem aka Chief, and his Wampanoag tribe who helped them survive.
Growing up in Massachusetts, Thanksgiving was a big deal. When every six years or so it coincided with my birthday (like it does this year) I thought I hit the jackpot. I considered it my own personal miracle; it felt that special. I loved the concept of celebrating all that was around us, from nearby Plymouth Rock, to the parade on TV, the bountiful food, and the family we were able to see before the stormy December weather in New England restricted our travel.
I now realize that being grateful is only part of the Thanksgiving celebration. The rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say, is that while Thanksgiving begins with gratefulness, the real point is in recognizing that sometimes we are called to be the miracle for those whom we encounter. This message hasn't changed over the centuries, and is the same, whether we go looking to offer assistance, or whether those in need just show up at our door, or on our shore, or in our life.
**Massasoit Great Sachem of the Wampanoags
Protector and Preserver of the Pilgrims, 1621
You, our readers, have been the miracle for us. You have inspired us, humbled us and led us to this new adventure on our miracle chase journey. Your honesty, your willingness to share, your vulnerability and your strength in the stories you have told us is a gift for which we will be forever grateful. Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving. (Joan)
I had never been to Yellowstone Park before this month. Of course, I'd heard of Old Faithful, the most famous and one of the larger geysers in the Park, but had no idea the Park was full of hundreds of geysers, big and small, across thousands of square miles of mountainous terrain. In our daylong tour it felt like we saw most of them and it gives one pause to recognize that the ground beneath our feet can be so tenuous and not what it seems. An ancient, teeming force pulses beneath us, though we walk along oblivious.
You might say the geysers are a blessing in disguise, releasing energy at regular intervals so the vast volcano underneath does not blow its top, and us, to smithereens. We do the same thing, don't we? Releasing bits of ourselves over time, playing it safe, even though the irony is that for us to feel true contentment, even joy, in love and friendship we must allow ourselves to be fully seen. Blow the lid off, so to speak, of the mask we present to the world. Clinging to the surface will never result in deeper connection and the meaning we are all searching for.
All Hallows' Eve or modern day Halloween, originated as a pagan ritual with the ancient Celtics, the night before the day of the dead. Disguises were worn even then to protect themselves from ghosts; the living did not wish to be recognized by the dead. The rest of the year must have been more difficult to hide one's true identity and feelings. With rampant disease, early death and only medieval amenities to ease their battle for survival, the living recognized in each other a common struggle. Today, we have the luxury of hiding behind an image we project, or a part that we play, forgetting that beneath the surface we all search for the same things: love and acceptance, honesty and authenticity, wisdom and peace.
Remember the Halloween fun from childhood, when we revealed to a friend or a family member who was really behind that masked bandit or clown? Of course, most of the time, they already knew and loved us just the same.
There is a song in the play Hamilton after the victory at Yorktown that is as filled with wonder as it is with trepidation. The underdog colonies emerged victorious, surprising the world, as much as the British. When I heard the song for the first time, the powerful lyrics resonated with me as their meaning is emblematic in my own life in the twists and turns I could never have imagined.
How many of us ever thought we would be where we are today? Doing what we are doing? And even if we did, and we are, I'll bet it looks and feels as different to you as it does to me. From marriage vows to professional accomplishments and parenthood, surprises lurk. Some are good, better than we could have ever dreamed, like grand-parenthood for example; others not so much, like cancer diagnoses and the deaths of those whom we love.
As I think about my own life, my cancer diagnosis at age 44 turned my world upside down. Now, twenty healthy years later, I count my blessings more openly, more meaningfully. I was given a gift, not only in longevity, but in the wake-up call to think about and recognize what is important. It is the same kind of decision process our new nation needed to undertake; yes, on a smaller, more personal scale, but monumental none-the-less.
As I face this anniversary of my re-birth, I do so with anticipation, knowing the importance of the insights I have learned on our miracle journey: to practice a generosity of spirit, to forgive myself as well as others, to strive for understanding and acceptance, and to dream and work for justice (if not for the universe then at least in my part of it). Most importantly, to be grateful for the abundance that surrounds me from the sea breeze to the shared love of my family and friends.
Yes, the world turned upside down, but it is OK, we survived.
On a recent trip to CA we went for a walk with friends in the nearby woods. Even though the temperature was in the nineties, the walk was entirely in shade and in some spots you could still feel the refreshing comfort of morning cool from a few hours before. Our friend mentioned something called forest bathing, which I had never heard of, and which consists of a romp in the woods or forest concentrating all your senses on the trees. Known as shinrin-yoku in Japan, there is no hiking or photography or talking allowed. Just being. Listening to the trees rustling in the wind or watching the sunlight dapple on the path as it filters through the leaves, keeping all your senses on high alert, even your 6th sense, your state of mind. I'm glad we weren't officially tree bathing on this particular day because I did snap a photo that caught a heart at the top of the canopy.
Trees, some living for thousands of years, do possess a certain ancient wisdom to pass along if we but listen and see, breathe and touch and be. They mark time and bear witness, survive calamity, resilient and faithful in their ability to go on. No two silhouettes, branches or leaves are alike providing us a new experience with each encounter. Shinrin-yoku teaches us to be stewards of nature with the patience to allow the details to unfold. In return, we receive an appreciation for the bounty that surrounds us, and the solitude to be aware and in the moment.
Trees have been an important symbol at the center of history, literature and spirituality throughout the ages. Buddha became enlightened under the shade of a Bodhi tree and the Tree of Life from Genesis conferred eternal life, much to the chagrin of the exiled and fallen Adam and Eve. In more modern times, Anne Frank kept track of the seasons through the one uncovered window in the attic and dreamed of life outside by the watch of a horse chestnut tree. Inspired by her tree, she wrote, "The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God." To that end, there is a beautiful pear tree at the 9/11 Memorial, the "survivor tree", initially scarred, burned and pulled from the rubble that was nursed back to health, and now stands for hope and rebirth.
As the summer winds down and before the leaves begin to fall, take a moment to look up at a nearby canopy, or sit in the shade of a wise old tree. As Hermann Hess wrote, "...a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me!" And allow yourself to ponder.