I have a friend who is undergoing massive chemotherapy to treat her cancer. She is likely to be in the hospital for at least a month. Right now, after a week, she is nauseous, exhausted, losing weight, and sleeping or zoning out a lot. When she's present, she is remarkable in her ability to hold two seemingly parallel realities -- that this is a desperate treatment with low odds and that she is living now and hopes to keep on living. Her husband describes this quality as "grit."
He often drops by our house at 9:00pm or 10:00pm, after having spent all day by her side. We talk about many things -- sadness, loss, our kitchen renovation, current events. We also talk about hope.
For many people I have met, hope is a bi-polar condition. It's opposite is despair. Either one hopes that there will be recovery or one despairs that damage or death is more likely. Every word spoken by the health care team becomes an augury. Every increase or decrease in temperature, every food product consumed and kept down, every smile or sigh -- become a sign of hope or despair, of life or death.
Since the distance between the states of hope and despair is so vast, and the signals to switch from one to the other are so continuous, this form of polarity-thinking is exhausting.
What's needed are stepping stones, or intermediate resting places -- oases of hope. As Anne Frank wrote in her diary, "Where there's hope there is life." To that I would add: Hope is not only found; it is created.
We can create these oases of hope that break up the long haul of illness and provide us with sustenance along the way. To do so requires two things:
- Paying attention
- Focusing on the ways in which the small can be momentous.
My husband hoped for and got joy from my quiet snoring that indicated to him that sleep had finally freed me from pain. I found hope (and a role model) in walking my dog and observing the ways in which she set challenges for herself (like finding a chicken bone buried under two feet of accumulated snow), appreciated her moment of conquest, and then moved on to the next adventure.
What are your oases of hope?