This past Sunday morning I walked to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The stunning 80-minute roundtrip to the Wall from our home is one of the many benefits of living here this year. I got in some quality meditation and prayer time and was headed home, feeling grounded and hopeful, when an adorable little dog with tags and a collar crossed the sidewalk in front of me, ran between two parked cars into the road and was killed immediately by a car. It was awful. A 12 year-old girl and her father were bicycling by and the girl’s piercing wails on seeing the dog get hit, struggle to rise, and then take its last breaths were devastating. In true Jerusalem fashion, the driver of the car; the father and his daughter; and a nearby shopkeeper quickly huddled over the dog, fetched a box, and began figuring out how to reach the owners, who were nowhere to be seen.
With so many tragic headlines – many of them generated in this corner of the world – you might not think that the death of an anonymous dog would be the last straw, but sometimes it works that way. I’ve been a wreck since Sunday. That little dog opened a door to a room full of grief and sadness in my heart.
I put up a blog post yesterday about “handling hopelessness.” It was a nice post, but at two in the morning when I was up and crying for no apparent reason last night, I realized that the helpful ideas in it didn’t even make a dent for me this week. They didn’t touch the hopelessness deep in me that I don’t even know is there; the hopelessness that can be triggered by witnessing an innocent dog die suddenly on a beautiful morning.
On the surface I appear very hopeful. I chose to live in Jerusalem this year and support friends who are pursuing peace because I believe peace here is possible. My life’s work is focused on helping people overcome seemingly impossible health challenges. Our sons homeschool because we believe that, with help, they can figure out what they need to learn. All of that takes an enormous amount of trust and hope to sustain.
Last night, in a torrent of tears, however; I realized that there is a strong stream of hopelessness running underneath all that. I may not consciously hear it, but in my heart there is always the unspoken question, “What’s the point?” that leaves me suffering and unsure.
I ask “What’s the point?” because sometimes it all feels like too much. My father died. Friends have lost their battles with cancer, heart disease or addiction. Others took their own lives. Still others are fighting tough prognoses or have lost decades to chronic illness. Then there are the people I don’t know, but who are burned in my memory. The seven children in the Brooklyn fire this past weekend. The three Jewish Israeli boys last summer. The hundreds of children in Gaza last summer. Victims of ISIS beheadings. Trayvon Martin and all the other boys and men who look like him. I haven’t even brought up the Holocaust yet, but of course it’s always there, as are all the injustice and suffering in the world.
Last night, amid my tears, I had a new thought. What if it’s not just perfectionism or fear of rejection that sometimes lead me to procrastination and paralyzing fear? What if I get scared to put myself out there because I feel hopeless that it will make any difference? Maybe underneath all my confidence and trust in the future, it’s not anxiety that occasionally cripples me. It’s hopelessness; hopelessness that I will finish my to do list; hopelessness that my sons will be okay; hopelessness that things will change; hopelessness that anything I do will matter. So many people are dead and so many others are suffering. Why bother? Does anything really make a difference?
So, last night I made a list of some people, in no particular order, who have made a difference, whether big or small.
- Brian and Anna Maria Clement set up Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach and showed me a path back to health.
- The Allies stopped the Nazis. They could have won the war. Then what?
- My brother found a way to get healthy.
- Abolitionists and civil rights activists ended slavery and then Jim Crow.
- Suffragists got women the vote.
- Nelson Mandela and activists around the world ended Apartheid.
- Rabin and Arafat showed us that peace might be possible.
- A lady police officer in Tel Aviv gave me 100 shekels for gas when my wallet was stolen.
- David and I found each other.
The list was nice, but I was still struggling. People set goals and meet them every day. Amazing things happen. But, people fail, die and suffer every day as well. Terrible things happen. What’s the point?
So, I went back to the micro level; my life; something I could manage. I went back to Brian and Anna Maria Clement. If they hadn’t developed Hippocrates into the learning center it is today and been there to show me how to eat, think and love my way to full health, I probably wouldn’t be well enough now to be living in Jerusalem, writing a book, supporting my sons to homeschool, and helping others work toward full health. By being hopeful and determined themselves, they helped me save myself.
I may not have founded an institute yet, but as I sat crying in the dark, I knew that I have touched a few people’s lives. Even if I’ve only ever helped one person improve his or her life for the better, that’s an enormous thing. Who knows what impact it will have? What’s more important than that? And, I know I’ve done that. We’ve all done that. When I doubt that things will change or that I can make a difference, I can hold onto that.
I saw a crack of light in my darkness and pushed through the door. To combat the hopelessness, I decided to take the perspective of, “Maybe I’ve done enough.” Maybe I don’t need to stress about having an impact because I have already touched at least one person’s life. Maybe I don’t have to worry about accomplishing my goals. Maybe, rather than working for a better future while wrapped in uncertainty and occasionally paralyzed by hopelessness, I can choose to focus on the fact that I and others have already made a difference, and relax. Maybe I can just relax.
That doesn’t mean I will stop trying to stay as healthy as possible, support people to heal, and work towards justice. It just means that maybe I can do those things with joy fueled by confidence rather than with grim determination fueled by fear. And maybe I will do them better.
I’m going to try that for a while.
What about you? If any of this resonates with you, I’d love to hear!
To your joy, health and hope,