Shoring up hope in uncertain times

‘Some days there seems to be little reason for hope, in our families, cities, and world.’

Anne Lamott Almost Everything: Notes on Hope

We are living in uncertain times and it is difficult not to be fearful. When we allow fear to rule our thoughts and feelings, there is little room for hope. Fear undermines hope. It challenges our confidence in the future. It encourages us to believe that everything is out of control. It makes us prone to worry. It breeds a sense of powerlessness.

What is our greatest fear?

It is the fear of uncertainty. We fear not knowing what may or may not happen.

Currently, the world is dealing with the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was first reported from Wuhan, China, on 31 December 2019. By March 2020 the virus has achieved pandemic status, meaning the deadly virus is spreading outside containment measures in multiple countries around the world.

Jim Tisch, President & CEO of LOEWS Corporation, likened the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus to a Category 6 hurricane. The thing is, there is no such thing as a Category 6 hurricane. It is off the scale. We can only speculate as to the scope and severity of such an eventuality.

The coronavirus is global in its reach and we are only beginning to understand the potential loss of life. At such unprecedented times it is sensible to adopt extreme caution and to do all you can to mitigate the risk.

In her recent non-fiction publication, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope, author Anne Lamott suggests four ways we can shore up hope in uncertain times.

1. Simplify the way you live

‘Life is richer when it is simple. A walk, buttered toast, a child’s soccer game. You’re afforded the opportunity to stop doing and can instead just be here.’

 Anne Lamott Almost Everything: Notes on Hope

Lamott has found that when we take control of the things that get in the way, trim our overcrowded schedules, and prioritise what we value, we are better placed to appreciate life and celebrate what often escapes our attention. There is beauty in the simple things, providing inspiration for a lasting hope.

The contagious nature of the coronavirus has governments on high alert. We are being asked to simplify the way we live and to regulate the number of people we’re interacting with.  Cultural events are being cancelled, schools and universities are being closed and the public are being educated in how to protect themselves.

Social distancing is one of the strategies being promoted. It is a public health measure that’s implemented during highly contagious outbreaks, like the coronavirus. Put simply, social distancing involves staying away from other people in order to avoid catching or spreading a virus. It often involves health officials restricting large public gatherings, such as concerts and festivals; closing certain buildings, such as art centres and libraries; and cancelling events in order to slow the spread of a disease.

Chris Griffith is a senior technology journalist at The Australian newspaper. He says,

“There are big personal and professional challenges to isolating. If you live alone, you’ll have to deal with the physical isolation, the spectre of uncertainty, and disconnect from not being with people. If you have a family, the challenge will be more to keep everyone calm and occupied.”

Many companies are encouraging their employees to work from home. But there are unique challenges in relocating our work practices to a domestic setting.

Chris Griffith advises,

“It’s best to have a separate work area which not only is peaceful but draws a distinct line between your home and work environments.”

Social distancing is providing everyone an unexpected opportunity to review how they live. Many of us are being forced to change our routines. We are having to re-evaluate how we do life. The experience could be transformative.

It might be that the current global pandemic becomes the catalyst for a shift in global consciousness whereby we

‘Live Simply So Others May Simply Live’

2. Strengthen the friendships you have

‘Like everyone, I have been in dire, searing straits before, when life has pulled the rug out from under me…. These threats and losses could have thrown me into hopelessness, but the rich love of friends… eventually pulled me back to my feet.’

Anne Lamott Almost Everything: Notes on Hope

It certainly feels like life has pulled the rug out from under us. The human cost of the coronavirus is stark, and it is going to get worse before it gets better. The chances of getting sick are high. Current estimates suggest that 1% of those infected with the virus will die.

Experts are unable to say when the coronavirus crisis will be over. It may be many months before life returns to something approaching normal. 

The virus has wreaked havoc with global economies. Stock markets have plunged, and businesses are feeling the pain. Individuals are experiencing economic hardship as working hours are compromised and wages suffer.  

A lack of consistent and accurate information can fan our fears. And fear left unchecked can be a catalyst for irrational behaviour. This partly explains the panic buying we have witnessed. In times of confusion and uncertainty panic buying is an attempt to gain back control of our lives, a survival contingency plan.

Psychologist, Katharina Wittgens says,

“When we stand in front of empty shelves people fear that stocks will run out, so they buy far more than they need.”

An important strategy in managing our fear and anxiety is to reach out to our friends. Given the restrictions on social contact we may need to be creative in the way we communicate. Check in with the people you care about regularly. Get on the phone or FaceTime. Use social media to keep you connected.

Friendship is reciprocal. Friends look out for each other. Their encouragement and advice bring perspective. Their assurances help us gain our footing. Their love gives us hope.

Fear causes people to hold tightly to what they have, to limit what they have to give. But the antidote for uncertain times is a spirit of generosity. As Henri Nouwen says,

“Every time I take a step in the direction of generosity, I know I am moving from fear to love.”

Henri Nouwen

3. Sustain an interest in the natural world

‘Trees in any forest have a presence, the beauty of the canopy and glimmers of blue sky like puzzle pieces, but they also have a mystical acoustic effect, due to their physical properties, a hush. Any hush is a hush, and a hush is usually sacred.’

Anne Lamott Almost Everything: Notes on Hope

The coronavirus threatens our physical and mental wellbeing. Not only is it beneficial to guard our thoughts, we need to keep active.

Much has been said about how we need to restrict our social contacts. But we still need to exercise.

As research team leader, Gerardo Chowell with Georgia State University’s School of Public Health says,

“Yes, you can go to the park and walk around. As far as I understand, there are no cases of transmission because you were just walking past another infected individual.”

Staying healthy involves eating well and keeping active. Nothing beats a walk. And importantly, walking is safe. Even more so if you choose a walking trail in a more remote setting. Just avoid walking in large groups.

Walking also brings us into contact with the natural world. Anne Lamott walks nearly every day along a path in the hills above her house, above a grove of redwoods. She says,

“I breathe in the grove ecstatically every time I see it, and again get to taste one of my favourite flavours of beauty: giant trees, chestnut roan in colour, slanting fingers of sun filtering through the branches. They are so pure.”

Trees are among the oldest living things on earth. The typical life span for a redwood tree is 500 to 700 years, although some trees live to be 2000 years old. Much of the vigor and vitality that allows redwood trees to resist pests and diseases is attributed to a substance called tannin. Redwoods are equipped to survive, and so are we.

Positive mental health and wellbeing enables you to function well and be better able to cope with life’s ups and downs.

4. Search after the eternal, that which lasts

“These days are among the hardest we will ever live through. The wind is blowing, but because we are together in this, we have hope. (When we are overwhelmed) one of us remembers and reminds the rest of us that when it is dark you can see the stars.”

Anne Lamott Almost Everything: Notes on Hope

Although Anne Lamott was thinking of the ‘political craziness’ in her country when she wrote these words, the sentiment applies to any time of turmoil and uncertainty.

The coronavirus pandemic has plunged the world into the abyss. We can’t see where this is going. There is talk of a global recession with millions of jobs lost. Some analysts are suggesting that our super-consumer society won’t survive this crisis. There is little consensus as to what the new normal might look like.

When life is unpredictable and unclear, search your hearts for what will last, the qualities that make life possible – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Herein lies our confidence, that God is present in our lives. He understands the challenges we face, and He will make a way. Hope will get us through these ‘terrifying’ times.

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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