May 11, 2021

An Emily Dickinson Poem on Hope & Resilience—to keep us Going.

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all. ~ Emily Dickinson 


It’s spring here in Pennsylvania, and as I take my morning walks with my dog, Cassie, I marvel at the renewal of nature that I see everywhere around me.

It was a hard winter with single-digits cold and snowstorm after snowstorm. The cold was made all the more bitter by the winds of a pandemic that locked us up inside our homes and cut us off from our routines and social contacts.

But now, life is springing back like the phoenix from the ashes. As I walk, I see (and smell) crab apple trees in fragrant bloom along the woods. I hear cardinals singing and geese honking overhead. I spot a baby bunny scurrying through the bushes.

It’s a feast for the senses.

How can this be? I wonder. A couple of months ago, I was trudging through an Arctic tundra of foot-high snow and howling winds, despairing that warmer weather would never come again. And yet, here is spring, in all its glory, as if February never happened.

The resilience of nature never ceases to amaze me. 

Put obstacle after obstacle in front of it—snow, storms, boulders, fires, earthquakes, pollution—and it always finds a way to bounce back. The chain rattles, but it does not break.

We human beings are part of that resilient chain of life. We take blow after blow, we suffer terrible tragedies and losses, but the human race goes on, just as nature does.

I think of how dark things looked 12 months ago at this time. It was spring then too, but it was hard to rejoice in it with an unknown virus spreading rapidly worldwide, filling up hospitals and morgues and swinging a wrecking ball through every aspect of our daily lives.

A year later, while we’re not out of the woods yet, things look a heck of a lot different. Through the amazing work of scientists, researchers, and front-line medical workers around the world, we have effective vaccines and treatments. Close to 40 percent of our country’s population has been fully vaccinated.

The tide is turning

Businesses and restaurants are reopening. Restrictions are being loosened. Rebirth is in the air.

That’s not to discount, in the least, the horrendous suffering and losses that so many people and families have gone through (and continue to go through). There’s no way to get all of those lives and lost time back.

The point is that life always finds a way to go on. It is, by nature, forward-looking. It feeds on the ashes of the past to send up its shoots.

History is filled with examples of that resilience, both individual and collective. The Jewish people after the Holocaust. Black people who fought through centuries of slavery and injustice for freedom. Women who fought the same way for equal rights.

Cancer survivors who refuse to give up. Victims of rape and abuse who refuse to let the past stop them or lose faith in other people. Business owners who refuse to shutter their doors when disaster strikes.

It’s all as miraculous and beautiful as the renewal of spring I see all around me this spring day.

Hope is the fuse that drives human beings forward in the midst of loss and suffering. 

Hope and faith bloom eternally in our hearts, and it is because of the resilience that is our natural birthright.

Each of us, here on this day, is tangible evidence of that essential resilience. We are all survivors, not just of COVID-19, but of lots of things. And we should all give ourselves a collective high five.

I consider myself fortunate not to have lost anyone close to me over the past year to this awful virus. But I have lost important people to other things. A good friend of mine passed away recently after a three-year battle with a rare blood cancer. That was a huge blow, and it came after I lost my father shortly before the COVID-19 outbreak.

As I get older, the losses seem to accelerate. That’s the way it feels, at least.

The more losses I go through, the tougher I get, but also the more appreciative.

Resilience is like a callous. 

It’s tough on the outside, but tender underneath.

The losses harden us up, but they also soften us by making us more aware of the preciousness of life and of the current moment, which is all we have.

The chirping of the birds. The colors of the flowers. The fragrance of the crab apple tree. The pull of the dog on the leash.

The warmth of the sun overhead. The warmth of the love awaiting me back home.

It’s all a miracle.

Isn’t it marvelous?

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