Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Little Hope for Better

"A New Day"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

The front page of this morning’s New York Times offered a very sobering and depressing look into a forgotten little, run-down, Appalachian town in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. The news article, “Feeling Let Down and Left Behind, With Little Hope for Better,” featured an interview with several of the local townspeople gathered in an e-cigarette lounge located next door to the “opioid addiction clinic.” Sitting in torn leather chairs and talking through clouds of “vaping” smoke, several local residents (mostly white males) bemoaned their lot in life, voicing their deep-rooted fears,  fear that an honest, 40 hour working-class job can no longer pay the bills, fear that society is falling apart, fear that the country’s future might pale in comparison with the past.”

Some of the people interviewed in today’s article recently had their homes foreclosed, many were barely “making ends meet,” unable to support their families. Some folks have turned to heroin and prescription drugs to ease the pain, and that’s why the “opioid addiction clinic” is the busiest place in town.   

When I read that very depressing story this morning, I immediately remembered something Noam Chomsky, said a little while back as he observed that more and more people in this country nowadays are "dying of prolonged hopelessness." More and more people have lost all hope of living out the “American Dream,” they are working harder, getting paid less and they feel abandoned by their government and other institutions. Many today feel as if there is no place for them in contemporary society, they have lost a sense of self worth and self esteem and have abandoned all hope for a better future. So, that’s probably why they are willing to turn to someone like Donald Trump in the hope that he will make them winners instead of losers, and restore them to their rightful place in this nation once again.

In Dante’s famous poem, The Divine Comedy, there is an inscription over the gates of hell that reads:

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!

I don’t think “hell” is a place you go after you die, I think “hell” is where you live in this life when you have abandoned all hope.

The Dalai Lama puts it this way:

No matter what sort of difficulties or how painful our experiences,
if we lose hope, that’s the disaster.

I think there is probably a lot of hopelessness in America today, not only among poorer folks like those in that Appalachian town in North Caroline - there is plenty of hopelessness among lots of people everywhere. I know plenty of people who are “just making ends meet,” and even among those who live rather comfortably many are convinced that there is little or no hope for a better tomorrow.

But I also I wonder what it is that everyone is hoping for? What does it mean to live into the so-called “American Dream”?  A big bank account, a nice house, a fast car, an exotic vacation?  And I also wonder, even if these all things did happen, would life’s problems go away and everything be fine?

Personally, I think that “hoping” for a better tomorrow has little or nothing to do with what genuine hope is really all about.

I am reminded of something Buddhist monk and author, Thich Nhat Hanh, once said:

In everyday life we are always looking for the right conditions
 that we don’t yet have to make us all happy
and we ignore what is happening right in front of us.
We wait and hope for the magical future moment
when everything will be as we want it to be
forgetting that life is available only in the present moment.

As I see it, hope is that ability to see that all is well even when life seems to be not so well.

Life is messy, chaotic and difficult – terrorists attack, people get sick and struggle financially, they lose jobs, sometimes feel abandoned; and when these things happen we often hope for that better magical future moment when everything will be as we want it to be. But genuine hope is the ability to stay grounded in the midst of chaos, to keep focused in the present moment where we can discover that in the midst of all the mess and muck of life, Love abides and we are never alone.

“God” abides and we have one another – to know this is to hope.

As I see it, today we live in an era where, perhaps more than any other time in history we need to be genuinely “hopeful” lest we all die of our hopelessness.

Emily Dickenson once wrote:

Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul.
And sings the tune without the words.
And never stops at all.

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