Everyone I know is hurting.
There are still flashes of beauty and love and triumph all around me, even moments of great joy.
But the whiff of depression, the sense of things having moved beyond our control, hangs over everything like a sulfurous smog.
Many of our friends and family are facing health issues right now – some short-term, others more dire and in some cases life-threatening.
Other friends are facing imminent eviction, or just can’t seem to find a steady place to stand. Friends who find that what was once a dream-come-true is now proving to be more of a nightmare.
And in our own lives, more seems to go wrong than goes right. We patch a leak, and a new one springs up in its place. We fix that, and two more appear. Our lives sometimes feel like an old, sinking ship.
After the last seven years of lies, pandemic, division and hatred, inflation, and personal disappointment, our “buffer” is all but gone. The slightest provocation can set off buckets of tears, shouts of rage, or bitter laughter.
Our old mantra – “Every year gets better” – seems like a cruel mockery in the topsy-turvy, dark and uncertain days of 2023.
And while it’s comforting to know we’re not alone – that everyone is hurting – it’s also terrifying.
So what’s a perennial optimist to do when faced with such grief, misery, and uncertainty?
I’m not used to living in such a dark place, to letting pessimism get the better of me. My spirit has a natural inclination to bounce back when things look bleak, to roll up my sleeves and get to work, but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to do so among the steady tumult of bad things that keep falling into our lives.
So I close my eyes and take a deep breath.
I start by reminding myself of the good things. I am alive. I am in decent health. I have a roof over my head and food in my belly and a little money in the bank.
We also have beautiful friends who, struggling as they are in their own lives, reach out to us and find a way to share a quiet evening or a companionable coffee with us, to remind us that life wasn’t always this way. And we have family, especially those who continually reach out to remind us how important we are to them.
I remind myself, too, of the little signs of hope that flicker all around me. The plants in the garden reaching for the sky, including my tomatoes (which will NOT succumb to spider mites this year, dammit, thanks to regular treatments of neem oil). Of the amazing outpouring of stories we’ve received for our last two anthologies, often telling us how the chance to write something new has made a difference in the authors’ lives. And the arrival of spring itself, filled with chirping of the birds outside in the trees.
Finally, I focus on what I can change. This is my favorite part of the Serenity Prayer. Although I’m not an alcoholic or an addict, I find deep wisdom in the thought that while there are pieces of my life I have no control over, there are pieces that I do, and I have the power to change them.
One of our pastors recently sent out a poem/blessing by Kate Bowler that almost perfectly captured where we find ourselves in this strange moment of time:
Blessed are you, dear one, when the world around you has changed.
Everything is different now,
your body, your age, your relationships, your job, your faith.
The things that once brought you joy.
The way you existed in the world.
The people you love and trust and rely on.
Things have changed and it would be silly to imagine you haven’t changed with them.
You are not who you once were.
Bless that old self,
they did such a good job with what they knew.
They made you who you were,
all the mistakes and heartbreak and naiveté and courage.
And blessed are who you are now,
you who aren’t pretending things are the same,
who continue to grow and stretch and show up to your life as it really is:
wholehearted, vulnerable, maybe a little afraid.
So blessed are we, the changed.
I am not who I once was.
Maybe the trick here is to embrace who we have become, how life has shaped us in the crucible of the last seven years. There’s no going back to our old selves, but the challenge of chasing something new lies before us, if we can grasp it.
Maybe every day can be a discovery of our new selves and our new path. We’re ready to follow it, if only we knew what it was.
So I close my eyes again, and take a deep breath, and try to imagine a future for us. And with it, a way to make what was once true, true again:
Every year gets better.