The End of Hope

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    Lately, million of people, including myself, are suffering from some kind of malaise. Former First Lady, Michelle Obama, described the way she’s been feeling as a “low-grade depression.” From past personal experience, I know that one factor that influences depression is chemistry, imbalances in our body. But for millions, the cause of what they are feeling is not chemistry. It’s external. It’s directly related to what’s happening in the world. I’m certain that much can be blamed on the global pandemic and the feeling that our world has been turned upside down. We miss our social contacts. We miss going out to the theater or to a favorite restaurant. But a good deal of blame is on government and especially the politics of government leaders who lie to us every day and who incite violence and injustice, all in a bid to be re-elected. These leaders tell us that Covid-19 is a hoax, that it’s not real. That it’s all made up to hurt the re-election chances of their candidate. They delude themselves into believing that every country on earth (except for Antarctica) is faking the news about the virus in an attempt to hurt their one candidate—a president who was the very first to call the virus a hoax and who has desperately tried to conceal from the public and downplay the true numbers of people who have contracted the disease as well as the number of deaths. I’ve already written about this in a previous blog post. In America, the present number of people who have contracted Covid-19 is over six million and the number of related deaths is approaching 200,000. Recent models estimate that there will be as many as 250,000 deaths in America by the end of the year. For each of those deaths, there’s a family who is suffering loss. It is no far reach to say that in America alone millions of people are directly affected by the deaths. The despair is magnified by an economy in shambles that compounds suffering on suffering. Uncertainty is the new normal. People who choose not to wear masks in public or not to socially distance jeopardize our collective health, and yet we are told not to call them out on their bad behavior out of fear of violent retaliation. They say that wearing a mask is for the protection of others. If that’s true, those individuals who are not practicing safety precautions are purposefully endangering our lives and the lives of our children and loved ones. And it feels like there’s nothing we can do about it.

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    Where can we turn for shelter against the storm? We can no longer trust our news sources to tell us the truth. One close friend recently told me that he watches news on the left and right side of the political spectrum to see both sides. But there is no “both sides.” One side is all propaganda—the broad dissemination if lies. They are marketers of fear. I have taught rhetoric and public speaking at universities since the late 1980s. I have always taught that there are two sides to every argument, but that by persuasive argument we may change some people’s minds about a topic or issue. But I was wrong. Certain television and radio stations have become State Media. They have a political agenda. Truth is not part of it. We can watch something with our own eyes, hear it with our own ears, and the propaganda channel tells us we did not see or hear what we saw and heard. They say it enough times until you question your own memory. They “doctor” images and take comments out of context to peddle falsehoods. For those of us who can read or think critically, we see uncanny parallels to the rise of Fascism in Europe in the late 1930s. And we remember the terrible years that followed and the one hundred million dead.

    The very fabric of society is being torn asunder, not just in America but elsewhere. And no one seems to care. We no longer trust our government, be it national, state, or local. Free elections worldwide are being undermined. Free Press is being assaulted. Protesters are being nabbed off the streets by shadowy government agents, physically assaulted, and even shot. For some, they have become disillusioned with their religion because church leaders deceived them about the dangers of the virus and community spread. They told their congregants, “God will protect us!” But if you believe in God as the creator of everything, then it follows that God made this virus that specifically kills human beings. Plenty of churches have had significant outbreaks of contagion because church leaders misled their followers. Politics outweighed their concern for the wellbeing of their flock. Many people no longer trust the institutions designed to protect them: the judicial system, the military, and the police. Who do we turn to in this time of so much suffering and loss?

    I think the malaise that so many people are feeling is more than anxiety or helplessness; it is hopelessness. It is a sense that the world has become devoid of compassion, love, kindness, decency, honesty, integrity, mercy, and justice—attributes to which we have all aspired. Indeed, to which every society has aspired. When the world is turned upside and we have no sure footing, no familiar landmark or lighthouse to safely guide us, it is possible to lose faith, to lose hope. I am reminded of something William Styron once said:  “It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul.” That is precisely what I have been feeling. My spirit has been crushed. I have no answer for how to dig ourselves out of this. No quick fix. No mindfulness or wise words for meditation. I can only leave you with the only thing left to hang on to: Hope.

     

    JSmelcer 4Dr. John Smelcer is the Inaugural Writer-in-Residence for the Charter for Compassion where he teaches a global online course called “Poetry for Inspiration and Well-Being.” He is the author of over 60 books, including A New Day, his timely new pocketbook of meditations to inspire love, compassion, hope, mercy, charity, tolerance, contemplation, peace, justice, and the spiritual life. He is currently working on a book about his discovery of Thomas Merton’s possessions in 2015.

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