Once upon a time, there was a girl with a serious rescue complex and an innate belief that people could overcome life’s challenges if only they were able to keep the light of hope lit inside of them.
So out she went into the world, doing her best to help keep the lights of others shining into the dark while managing her own flickering flame. Often, it felt like her own light would nearly flicker out, leaving her unable to reach anyone else—but she fanned even the smallest of flames and kept going.
And of course that girl is me.
I remember being on the tail end of my teen years and telling a high school friend that she could choose her own life and make it what she wanted, but she would have to be brave enough to make new choices—perhaps different ones than her family had made before her or that her friends were making at that moment.
I saw all of this intelligence and potential shining out of a fragile shell, and I’m grateful that I didn’t know then that her light would go out in a couple of years, her path following one of addiction and leading her further into a darkness from which she’d never return.
For a few years, I even worked as a community counselor, and I spent my work days trying to instill hope while trying to maintain my own. I have never stopped believing that our choices make up our lives, and we can always choose a new path. And that our own light impacts the light of others, our own hope or despair reaches out. This is why self-care is so essential: how can we help others when we don’t take care of ourselves? We simply can’t.
As a new year approaches, many of us take stock of the year we’re leaving behind.
For many, this year has been one of struggle and challenge, discord and disruption. Relationships may be broken, and we may be wondering if the damage is irreparable. Our belief in the integrity of our political systems and in the greater world around us may be shaken, and we may feel fear and uncertainty about what the future will hold. When our lives seem dark and fraught with complication, it is essential that we instill hope in ourselves and in others at this time more than ever. We cannot allow ourselves to give up on our beliefs, or our sense of the goodness of people. or in our ability to impact the world for the better.
And I say that from the darkness of a world in which we’re seeing a rise of fascism and a resurgence of hate. I say that as a feminist watching as women are demeaned and violated and the criminals responsible walk away with a slap on the wrist (or pat on the back).
I say this even though the last year has broken me down on so many levels that I wondered if I would still be standing at the end of it. Despite all of that, despite everything, I’m still the girl who will put my money on hope every time.
Yes, the days are dark. But they’ve been dark before, and they certainly will be again. There’s no comfort in that, but there is a certain comfort in knowing that light will always shine out of that darkness, and the darker it is, the more easily a light will shine—even the smallest of them. We have an obligation to ourselves and to the world around us to never yield our hope, to never surrender it to the bullies that threaten to stomp it out.
We choose to look around us and find the light. It’s everywhere.
We can find it in the kindness of strangers and in the compassion of friends. We can see how there are always people who stand against hate no matter what it costs them personally. We can look around and know that no matter how dark things may seem, there is always a reason to hope and to hold on to the beauty that is life.
I recently saw the film Collateral Beauty, and I will not ruin your movie going experience with a spoiler (though I urge you to see it for yourself). I will say that the movie points out, even in the title, the idea of “collateral beauty”—a beauty that exists despite and often because of our struggle. It’s a small sort of beauty and may seem insignificant, but it’s truly essential and important in our lives.
When we falter and begin to lose faith, we need to look around and to anchor ourselves to the beauty of this world and the knowledge that there is still good to be found in it. And if looking for collateral beauty in the world doesn’t work, I offer you wisdom from a literary source.
The Harry Potter series started out as a children’s book that stole the hearts of people of all ages, and the wisdom inside of these cherished books reaches out and touches our hearts—particularly in times of darkness. Here are a few quotes from the Harry Potter series that remind us to hold on to that inner light and keep our hope shining.
A Harry Potter how-to for shining light into darkness and never, ever losing hope:
1. “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
2. “Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”
3.”It is important to fight and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then can evil be kept at bay though never quite eradicated.”
4. “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”
5. “This pain is part of being human, the fact that you can feel pain like this is your greatest strength.”
My companion guide to this Harry Potter how-to is a brief list of ways we can care for ourselves and find the beauty around us when our light feels like it could easily flicker out. It’s a magic potion, if you will, to be used in the darkest of times.
1. We can anchor ourselves with beauty. Find it in nature. Find it in the eyes of someone you love. Find it in a song. Find it in faith. Find it in art or dance. Just find it. Rest in that moment.
2. We can always find something to be thankful for. We can feel gratitude for our health or for the weather or for having someone in our lives that we love, be it human or a four-legged friend. We can remember to focus on what we do have rather than the struggles that are present in our lives.
3. We can practice kindness ourselves. We can help instill hope in ourselves by being kind to others and watching the ripple effect. This is a great way to remind ourselves that there is still good in the world. And sometimes we are what’s good in the world.
4. Laugh. Just laugh. Practice laughter yoga. Watch a comedy. Tell a joke. Watch a hilarious yet endearing animal video on YouTube. Laughter is an important part of our health, and just that act of joy can help our light to shine.
5. Spread love. Mix one through four together and then share the love. How? Be kind. Say the magic words you need to say to let others know they are loved and valued and appreciated, that you see them, that you are glad they are here. Help people who are struggling by listening, by reaching out, by saying that you are here for them.
Spread love, and this will spread hope. Hold on to it and never let go.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Image: Snape’s True Love/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman