Christmas is around the corner, and I hope all you readers (and authors!) are doing well with holiday preparations well on their way, preferably without and hitch! We aren’t Christian but we always hold a little commemorative dinner in honor of this special occasion, which we will be doing again, albeit on a (very) small scale.
Unfortunately, tough times do not seem to take a break during this time of the year. Some of us regular “Ask an Author” participants were recently discussing how tough of a year we have been having. We realised that although it doesn’t have much to do with writing, a great topic for our feature would be to reflect on how to remain hopeful of a better future however dark the present might be.
Personally, I have my ups and downs and, ironically enough, what has helped me remain hopeful was to accept the times I was feeling down to the point of embracing it. Initially I was concerned that those down days would take over, but something very interesting happened: the days when I would just accept and be down would turn out to be a “hope refuelling” day and I noticed that I felt a lot more hopeful on average at the end of the month. Go figure.
That question is easy for me to answer. Someone who is in my immediate family, and the closest person to me, wound up with cancer in 2013. I was completely devastated, but decided right from the beginning I wasn’t going to cry or show any sign of despair. I was right with him through all the tests, the chemotherapy, the trip out of state to see a specialist, picked up his meds, and held his hands when he was howling with pain (from the chemo, not the cancer).
When I was alone in my room, maybe a tear would fall, but I did not allow myself to think of anything but a good outcome. This took real mental discipline, but I did not let a negative thought cross my mind. I believe it helped enormously.
Fortunately for all, he completely recovered. In the last two years of checkups, there has been not smidge of cancer showing up on any of the tests. He exercises and eats right, his hair grew back (and he wears it in a long ponytail now!). And in 2014, we went to Paris to celebrate.
Life is good and I never gave up believing that it would be so.
My husband’s best friend often came over on his motorcycle from his home town to visit us in ours. He would turn up, out of the blue and talk about his girlfriend whom we hadn’t met, so we used to tease him about her being his imaginary girlfriend. Of course we did meet her, and eventually they had kids – whom we nicknamed his imaginary children.
Three years ago, he was killed one evening in November on a motorcycle ride. It was a stunning moment. We immediately went over and spent time with his girlfriend and children, even though we didn’t really know them and we still remain very close to her, and visit when we can. She is accepting his death, but found it very hard initially, as it happened so quickly. We have been with her through first Christmas’ without him, first birthdays without him. We have been able to be there for her and show her that even though he isn’t with her anymore, he is all around her. Not a happy story, and she struggles with it, but she is living for her children, and knows that life goes on, no matter what.
My family and I are coping with a tough time right at this moment, so I thought why not give some advice that’s not really working. Because something has to be better than nothing, right? So, here goes… it’s important to remember you’re not alone, so ask for help. Great challenges face us all sooner or later, and when they come — take one step at a time. Don’t hope, hope will only let you down. Try to focus on the little things, the things you can manage, and take time to enjoy what you can, while learning how to live with the stress that’ll never go away — until it does. And always, always, always, seek the sun.
Sahar, as always you have hit the spot with a timely and relevant question. How do we continue, how do we find hope, when the world can be such a brutal and unforgiving place? Last year, I was in a very dark place personally, and a friend suggested I keep a diary of three positive things every day for a week. Just a week. I was a writer; of course, I could do that. At first, though, it was hard. All I could think of was my big issue which was dark and oppressive and all-consuming. I felt I had no energy to spare for anything but the horrible thing. So, instead I decided to be mindful of the little things, things that often go unnoticed in passing: the smell shampoo in my children’s hair, warm towels straight from the dryer, a first cup of coffee in the morning, spring flowers on the side of the road, clean sheets, running into friends in the street, a little boy’s giggle overheard in the park, a postcard, a sleep-in on a Saturday morning. Little things. And little by little, I found these things, taken together, could make the bigger scary issue seem less daunting. Of course, some issues can’t be erased — that isn’t always realistic — but focussing on daily positives can certainly make life more bearable. In the end, I didn’t just record positives for a week. I’ve recording them on my Facebook page for 500 days now, and while the big issue is still there, it hasn’t beaten me yet. I’m reminded of this quote from Buddha: “All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think, we become.”