It's Okay (Or At Least I Hope So)
Since getting sick, I’ve had many conversations like this one:
Friend: “How are you feeling lately?”
Me: “More of the same, but it’s okay.”
Friend: “No, it’s not okay. It’s not okay for you to still be sick. I hate this for you.”
These conversations leave me puzzling. Am I too much of a Pollyanna? Am I just trying to alleviate my friends’ discomfort by reassuring them that I’m fine? Am I supposed to feel like my situation is not okay? But beneath all of this—deeper than my reflexive cheeriness or the impulse to rescue others—is the bedrock conviction that it really is okay for me to have lost so much. It’s okay—I am okay—because long Covid has taught me this: it’s possible for your outer world to fall apart without taking your inner world with it.
Sue Monk Kidd articulates this sentiment beautifully in her most recent novel, “The Book of Longings.”
When I tell you all shall be well, I don’t mean that life won’t bring you tragedy. Life will be life. I only mean you will be well in spite of it. All shall be well, no matter what. . . . You’ll be devastated and grief-stricken, but there’s a place in you that is inviolate—it’s the surest part of you. . . . You’ll find your way there, when you need to. And you’ll know then what I speak of.
I’ve spent many moments in this inviolate place within myself since getting sick. In these moments, I find as much joy in cicada song, crisp bed sheets, and the ability to walk as I ever found in live concerts, international travel, or a long run. It’s from this place—this come-and-go place of tender acceptance—that hope grows. Not the hope that “someday I’ll be fully healthy, and then everything will be fine,” but rather the brighter and more flexible hope that “life will be life, and I will keep learning and growing in response to it.” With this hope, the words, “I wonder what will happen next!” take on an excited and childlike quality. They express curiosity rather than fear.
Holocaust survivor and psychologist Edith Eger says this of the relationship between hope and curiosity:
To ask how hope is possible in the face of dire realities is to confuse hope with idealism. Idealism is when you expect that everything in life is going to be fair or good or easy. It’s a defense mechanism, just like denial or delusion. . . Hope isn’t distraction from darkness. It’s a confrontation with darkness. . . . Hope is curiosity writ large. A willingness to cultivate within yourself whatever kindles light, and to shine that light into the darkest places. Hope is the boldest act of imagination I know.
If a friend were to ask me today how I’ve been feeling lately, my answer would be this: “I’m having hands-down my best month in the past year and a half. It feels like my body is healing. I’ve experienced enough ups and downs, though, to know that I need to take it a day at a time.”
Sometimes, the good stretches are the times when hope gets tricky. When my body feels better, it’s easy to start clinging again, holding stubbornly to a certain level of health or ability. It’s easy to slip out of hope, which requires flexibility and imagination, and into more rigid idealism. That’s not a problem, though. Why not? Because we can begin again. We can practice acceptance again. We can open ourselves to a more imaginative hope all over again. We can smile at our tendency to grasp, resist, or cling. We can practice self-compassion again.
How do I know? Because we’ve already done it so damn many times. And that’s okay.
How do you cultivate hope? How do you begin again when everything around you feels dark?