What do you say to someone who is courageous enough to admit that they are ready to give up?
What if they say they cannot hold on - because the pain and separation are no longer worth it? How does one stem an accumulated tide of frustration, fatigue, fear and longing?
I remained stationed at my desk on a blustery early-winter’s evening, with nothing left to say, in no hurry to get up, leave, or do much of anything. I listened to the eerie silence of the hallway outside my office at Bellevue - somehow comforted by the haunting ambience.
In solitude, I recalled the words of a wise musician friend who told me, “There is just as much nuance in silence as there is in sound.” So, I listened deeply. Old lessons began to resurface in my consciousness. Assertions that the headwinds are strongest the closer we get to our goals. Insistence on the power and necessity of ongoing effort.
I noticed that a book had fallen over on my shelf. As fate would have it, the text was my old, tattered copy of Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist.” I began flipping through the pages, wondering if this could be some sort of sign. I looked at the underlined and highlighted passages, looking for clues. I was not disappointed.
The book’s protagonist embarks on a perilous and unlikely journey; a spiritual quest for his “personal legend” that provided the meaning and context of his struggles, suffering, doubt and obstacles. There are many occasions when giving up seemed like the most reasonable response for the intrepid traveler. However, signs of hope and clarity helped him to realize that the “universe was conspiring” to assist him in achieving his goals.
The author explained that the hero’s trials would become even more ferocious the closer he got to his goals. He described the final stages of a quest as the point in the struggle where many people give up. He wrote that we will be “constantly subjected to tests of our persistence and courage” as we pursue our dreams. He advised that when there is no way to retrace our steps, we can only “worry about the best way of moving forward.” He decried the fate of the pilgrim who crosses the desert and “dies of thirst when the palm trees have appeared on the horizon.”
I had not read these words in several years, and it was like seeing them with fresh eyes. I could see our gallant clients as pilgrims on such a quest, crossing an unmeasurable desert, facing uncertainty, tempests, and vicious antagonists. They have survived so much, but it is hard to appreciate victories and positive steps when the sand still stings their eyes, and it feels like they are no closer to the next oasis. Survivors may doubt that they have the ability to save their families from the harsh realities of the current environment. Yet, I can feel how close they are to achieving their dreams. So very, close…
Fellowship, steeped in authenticity, may be the best, and only, support we can provide. It may not be sufficient; but it is important and necessary. As we approach the end of this unfathomable year, I freely admit to my own fears and recognize my own fatigue and shortcomings. I accept that I cannot make promises about things we do not control. I own my tears - and no longer hide them from those I cherish. I have even admitted to my own musings about “giving up on helping people to not give up.” I have become more willing to share my emotions with fellow travelers who are currently lost in the desert - whether they be clients, colleagues, or family members.
I know we are close. I can feel it...
I firmly believe that our efforts to survive and navigate 2020 will ultimately bear fruit. Can we internalize the lessons of this abysmal, bleak, harrowing, “desert-crossing” of a year, and focus on the importance of connection and social deepening? Will we look to the stars for guidance and inspiration in the darkness of night? Will we extend a hand when needed and accept a hand when offered? Will we recognize our own strength in moments of vulnerability? Can we hold true, and never stop believing in our personal dream or cease working to construct our personal destiny?
Please recognize that the challenges of 2020 have done more than just cause pain. They have afforded lessons about community, democracy and social engagement. They have shown the power of generosity and acceptance. They have strengthened our community of caring humanists like you, and helped shed light on the “essential” nature of the most vulnerable among us.
Fully girded with these old and new lessons we turn to 2021. We count our blessings, and recognize how important you have been in seeing us through this period of tribulation. You have literally helped to feed the hungry, shed light in obscurity and befriend the friendless. Your impact has been tremendous. You have helped us cross the metaphorical desert, and now we just need to hold on a bit longer.
The oasis of 2021 is just ahead. We look forward to having a cool sip with you, and reflecting back on the lessons (and blessings) we have acquired during our turbulent 2020 desert crossing.
So please, “Don’t give up!” Not now. We are too close!
One love, Hawk