Friday, June 21, 2013

Despair and Hope


I skimmed through the news this morning. I don’t usually read the news, although I generally feel guilty about it. Echoes of my high school civics and history teachers sound in my head, telling me I have to know what’s going on in the world. But I usually don’t have time in the morning to sit and read the paper (yes, we actually get a newspaper) and for some reason I can’t pick up NPR on my radio without an extremely annoying amount of static. I do have news apps on my phone, but somehow during the day I never get around to checking them and then in the evening I’m focused on family time and then a little bit of writing before bedtime. I also end up finding the news rather upsetting most of the time. There’s only so much bad news I can take some days.

This morning’s news was a great example – the “shocking report” of the day from Huff Post was that the World Health Organization had published a study showing that over 1:3 women worldwide will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Most of this violence occurs at the hands of an intimate partner. What is really bad about this is that this is not “shocking” at all. 1:3 is the same statistic I found 20 years ago when I researched domestic violence for a high school speech. So really what this report is saying is that we’ve made absolutely no progress in 20 years on women being subjected to violence. That’s discouraging, to say the least. Appalling might be a more accurate word.

Last night though, I was reading an email essay from Jim Wallis at Sojornours. Mr. Wallis is a Christian activist who leads Sojourners, a social justice organization based on Christian Principles. Mr. Wallis’s essay last night was talking about cynicism – the belief that things are so bad in our country they can’t get better, the thought process that says that there is nothing that I can do so why even try, why not just make my own life as secure as possible. Mr. Wallis suggests that cynicism like this is dangerous because it blocks personal commitment to change, which is the only thing that can create change. And he offered a corrective – faith. Faith is a very Christian virtue, and biblically (Hebrews 11:1) is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Essentially, faith empowers us to act in hope; hope that things can change and that we can make a difference. Another way to say this might be trust.

This strikes a cord with me because when I’m working with patients despair is often a real and palpable presence. I often see people who have had so much pain and suffering in their lives that they no longer believe anything will truly help them. They have no hope or trust left in themselves or in the world. My job becomes one of addressing despair and engaging them in trust and hope before we can get started with anything else to help them heal. I will sometimes tell someone directly – I know you don’t have hope right now. That’s okay. I will carry the burden of being hopeful for right now, until you are able.  And even though as I write it I recognize how odd that looks and sounds, it is a pretty accurate description of what is going on, and it does help.

When I’m working with patients, I choose to have hope. I hope that they will get better. I hope that my saying to someone who is or has been abused “it’s not okay for this person to treat you that way. No one is allowed to treat anyone that way, no matter what.” makes a difference. And hope is something I choose for my personal life, too. I choose to hope that if I keep signing petitions, keep writing about things that matter to me, keep working and giving to help others that this world will improve. I hope someday I can read the news and smile.