Hope in the Time of 2020

My internal playlist continues to fluctuate between the song “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac and “It’s The End of the World” by REM.  How bout you?

Anyway, they say you come across what you need right when you need it the most. 

Yesterday I came across an Instagram live feed that Nadia Bolz-Weber (an ordained Lutheran Pastor, founder of House for All Sinners & Saints in Denver, Colorado) hosted on Election Day. It was called: Keeping it Together on Election Day. The idea was “a few minutes of sanity at the top of each hour.”

Sanity?! I’m in!

At the beginning of each hour, she had a different guest from all different walks of spiritual life. Some brought prayers, some poems, and some songs. Everyone, brought hope.

Kate Bowler, PhD, is an associate professor of the history of Christianity in North America at Duke Divinity School. She said, “there is something that needs to create, rebuild the column of our spines now. Like what (even) makes us feel tall when so much feels like it is weighing us down?”

I love that imagery as much as I like the question. When it comes to being strong of spine and backbone, I am reminded of two things. The first is Frida Kahlo. An accident left her with a broken back that continued to cause her pain for the remainder of her life. And out of that pain and suffering, she allowed to be birthed some spectacular art. Her art was how she, figuratively and literally, rebuilt her backbone.

The Broken Column is an oil on Masonite painting, painted in 1944 shortly after Kahlo had spinal surgery to correct on-going problems from an accident when she was eighteen.

The other thing that comes to mind is the mast of a ship. I think I read this in a book when I was in my early twenties. So I might be remembering it wrong, hell, for all I know, it could have been from a movie or a tour I went on. But I don’t recall touring any ships in my early twenties. At this point, this is how I remember the conversation in the book.

The main character is feeling pretty powerless, and the wise old pirate she is bemoaning her woes to, says she has the backbone and strength of a ships mast. A mast was made from an old-growth White Pine. The tallest of the trees and the oldest. Making it rather wise in years, not to mention the number of storms a good mast was able to weather. She did indeed have backbone akin to the mast of a ship.

I’ve been thinking about what has given me strength under the weight of the world right now, what’s keeping my backbone strong? While I would feel better if it was some sort of insurgence of a Hollywood explosion that inspired me, that isn’t how things are happening. Day in and day out, it’s a long list of spectacularly little things that rebuild me. A sunrise. A bird. A call with a friend. A note in the mail. A smile.

And this year, there have been days when I have to look to these tiny, insignificant things to aid in the rebuilding of my spin on a daily basis. And that’s okay too.

Did you get up this morning? Whether you wanted to or not, did you get up and make the coffee and sign your kid on to school and shuffle through the house opening curtains? That choice to get out of bed and face the day, in this day and age, I feel like that is an act of bravery my friend.

I’m not trying to denounce the bravery of my fellow humans who have suffered and continued to stand up for their lives and beliefs this past year, but I’m trying to build on this idea Pádraig Ó Tuama, a poet, theologian and mediator, talked about. He has become one of my favorite poets over the past few years. He was one of the guests on Nadia’s livestream. He talked about the Irish Peace Agreement and how it was the slow, snail crawling acts of every day people that led to change.

In talking about it, he said that Politics won’t solve the problems of the people. Politicians work toward the election. It’s the people who see the needs of each other and help aid in change. But change comes slowly, creepingly.

When this election is over, whoever wins, that president and senator and governor will not be on my front porch offering to help with winterizing my yard or do my housework. That politician isn’t going to be checking me out at the grocery store. That politician isn’t going to be in the ER taking care of my family if someone is sick.

It’s my friends and neighbors who will be there.

It is my friends and neighbors that will make the slow march toward change.

As a historian, I’ve spent a lot of time this year talking about the parallels of the Black Plague, the Spanish Flu, and the Cholera Pandemic of 1910.

Other topics that have come up has been World War II, the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam protests and Women’s Rights. Apply all those to our current state of affairs, has anything changed? Is there hope for the future?

Look, there is an ebb and flow to history, a cycle. The 60s saw the struggle for Civil Rights and Women’s Rights and here we are again. It doesn’t seem like much has changed, and I know that doesn’t make you feel good, but hang in here for a second with me while I talk this through.

It isn’t that we’re back at the beginning of our problems. Sure there is a circular sense to History, but it is more like a spiral stair case. We’ve come back around again to intensified anger over injustices, but we aren’t where we were last time. We’re a bit higher, there are changes that have happened, at a snail’s pace, but the changes are there and there will be more changes this time around. Always we’re climbing closer and closer to change, enlightenment, and justice.

Heart Sick; Wrought with anxiety; Broken…those are the stand out words I’ve come across that I will use to define 2020 for the rest of my life. But that is when I have narrowed the focus on my own life.

When I pull back the lens, I see my fellow humans who are out there doing good work. I see the people being kind to their neighbors, their fellow humans. I see the people having important conversations without the anger, with open minds. I see friends and neighbors turning to humanism, and away from injustice. 

No matter how disheartening these days have felt, there are people out there who have rolled up their shirtsleeves and are doing good work.

Pádraig Ó Tuama talked about this on Nadia’s live Instagram, about how change came to Ireland. How when two people of opposing sides can find the ability to face each other, regardless of what they are scared of and what beliefs they have, when they can sit in the same room with someone who sees life differently and listen to what each has to say, without running away; and when they can be open to hearing what is said…that is the powerful, painful, slow crawl toward change that begins.

Again, I am reminded that even in these impossible times, we are, all of us, coming to the table of America with imbedded fears and grief. But there is still good we can do.

It isn’t easy. I’ll be the first to admit that. I fluctuate between unbridled anger and overwhelming disbelief for those I disagree. This year I’ve been given a cornucopia of topics in which to disagree with people over. And it takes a lot of energy to try and see their side of things. It’s so much easier to just be angry and hate them for their differences. But that’s the thing…hate isn’t working.

Nietzsche comes to the rescue in this moment and reminds me:

“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”

You see, dominate powers are not ultimate powers.

Read that one again.

“Dominant powers are not ultimate powers. Empires fall. Tyrants fade. Systems die. God is still around.” ~ Nadia Bolz-Weber

This horrific pandemic will one day be a thing of history pages. The 45th president of the United States will one day be a footnote in those same history books. The thing I continue to think about is how there will come a time when the 45th president of the United States will be seen as what he truly has been, a necessary evil.

One man has agitated the American soil and reignited the racism, misogyny, ignorance, injustice and failing government that has existed just beneath the surface for so long. The Great American Experiment isn’t dead, I argue, it was a façade all along.

I’m back to being angry again. Angry and exhausted. But there has to be more than anger. Perhaps anger is a catalyst for energy. And perhaps there is a way to tap into that energy of anger and wake up and work toward something greater than anger, hatred and injustice. Maybe through that we’ll find strength. Strength to carry on. Strength to listen to our fellow humans. Strength to bridge a divide, and hell, strength enough to make it through the day.

When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall… think of it, always. -Mahatma Gandhi

I’ve been in a holding pattern since March, most of us have. But to be honest, I’ve been holding my breath since January of 2017. I’ve been waking up and going through the motions, waiting for my life to get back to “Normal”.

But why?

I’m not stuck in my home. My family and I have gone fishing and hiking. We’ve gone swimming in lakes and rivers. We’ve packed picnics all over. My husband and I have had to communicate differently and more honestly than ever before. I’ve continued my yoga practice on a daily basis and found the silence of having nothing to do; the ability to not have to fill a calendar months ahead of time, quite liberating.

The worry and heartache is always there, but I have turned to spiritual leaders, past and present, who have helped. And I live in hope. I have tendencies toward optimism and utter pessimism, but hope is always around, regardless of which way the reading of my ‘glass’ tends to be.

David Ignatius, a columnist wrote,

“The shared hardship of the pandemic will change America, as surely as did the Great Depression and World War II. The pain is obvious now, but so is the resilience. We’ll be a different country in the future, but maybe a stronger one.”

The ultimate balm from Nadia’s live Instagram was this, that regardless of the turnout of this election, there is going to be a tomorrow.

Tomorrow I am going to wake up at 6 and meditate like I do most days. At 7 I’m going to wake my child up for school. Then I am going to make my coffee and look for something inspirational to read. Then it will be time to sign the kid onto school. Then I will continue to write and create.

Tomorrow I will continue to attempt kindness to my neighbor.

Tomorrow I will continue to try and teach my child right from wrong.

Tomorrow I will continue to keep going.

Tomorrow I will continue to find a moment of joy.

Tomorrow I will continue to build up my backbone.

Wherever your beliefs, spirituality, or the poetry of your soul lies, if you look for it, there is something out there to help you through the dark nights and the depressing days.

I wish that for you.

Here are a few that have helped me.

Tara Brach Tara Brach is an American psychologist, author, and proponent of Buddhist meditation.

Nadia Bolz-Weber is an ordained Lutheran Pastor, founder of House for All Sinners & Saints in Denver, Co, the creator and host of The Confessional and the author of three NYT bestselling memoirs. She writes and speaks about personal failings, recovery, grace, faith, and really whatever the hell else

she wants to. She always sits in the corner with the other weirdoes.

Best Virtual Tours There are zoos, museums, the Eiffel Tower, Disney World…

Sign up HERE for a poem-a day in your email inbox.

Grief.com has some great resources and readings dealing with Covid-19 and the grief we’re all feeling.

I’m a believer in art. Go find Art. Share art you see with others who might need it. Tell me about the art you find.

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. – Pablo Picasso

The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. – Kurt Vonnegut

Your Daily Art sends you a piece of art and a little blurb about it to your inbox every day.

Poetry Unbound from On Being is a weekly poem read by Pádraig Ó Tuama. They are quick podcasts. He reads the poem, talks about it, and then reads it once more. Just a nice time out.

Music…is personal taste. Billboard has a list of online and free concerts coming soon. 

What are you doing during these difficult days? What’s keeping your head above water and rebuilding your backbone. 



  • Bob Niccum

    Another excellent, thought-provoking essay. The portion about things not continuing forever reminded me of a wonderful quote from Israeli author Amos Oz, on PRI’s The World, Nov. 9, 2011:
    I wake up at 5:00 every morning of my life. I live in a small desert town in the south of Israel in the Negev desert. I begin my day by taking a brisk 40 minute walk in the desert which helps me knock everything into proportion. When I come back home and switch on the radio and I hear politicians using words such as never, forever, or for eternity I know the stones out in the desert are laughing at them.

  • Mom

    A balm for me. I love how you can find the words for some of my thoughts. I love you for being hopeful. I love you for being ‘ my kid’

  • Mel

    Such an excellent piece…it hits squarely on the mark and helps me to see things a little differently. I didn’t read this until today (Nov. 8), and today I am happy to see this country experiencing the fall of a tyrant and the rise of so many possibilities!!!

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