I went to a wonderfully unique art exhibit the other day called The Art of the Brick, featuring Lego creations by Nathan Sawaya. Some of the pieces described the artist’s thoughts and inspirations, many of a philosophical, existential nature. Guess who loves that?
The piece I’m picturing here was called Decisions and the artist described it as “an exploration of decisions resulting in two of the strongest emotions which we will experience in our lifetime, hope and despair.”
Even if I hadn’t been struggling with hope and despair with regard to some very specific decisions in the past few weeks, this piece would have resonated with me because hope is so important to me.
Hope is one of the guiding forces in my life. It’s what motivates and inspires me in my work as a therapist—hope that I can help people ease their suffering and become their best selves. Hope keeps me open to taking risks with the belief that things will ultimately work out okay. Hope guides me in relationships and in my continual efforts to connect with people.
Now, I am well aware that feeling hopeless sucks for everyone. I witness that almost every day. Yet it is so much a part of who I am, that when I start to feel that sense of despair, I feel unlike myself. Not simply do I feel bad, I feel not me.
The night before Christmas Eve, I found out I had been exposed to COVID. It was a tough decision to forego our plans for the holiday and spend it alone, quarantining with my immediate family. It was sad and disappointing and not my favorite way to spend Christmas.
But I remained hopeful because we were traveling to Florida for New Year, to see my oldest son (the whole family together for the first time since June) and other family who I hadn’t seen in a long time. Oh, and Mickey Mouse too!
When my sister texted me with the news that my nephew had tested positive for COVID, I crashed. I was filled with despair. I was heartbroken to consider not seeing these people I love so much. And who knows when I would see them? With COVID hanging around, mutating and outsmarting us, I felt hopeless about a future reunion.
It was a rough few days. I didn’t want to talk with anyone. My family and I debated going and seeing Christopher but not my sister. We debated calling the whole trip off. We debated having Christopher come to us. We reached one decision, then changed our minds, then changed them again. We ended up making separate decisions, different risk-reward calculations regarding Omicron. In the end, I went to Florida with Casey, and had a lot of fun but missed having all of my people together. It ended up with hope prevailing (as it usually does for me), but with a bit of despair still licking at the edges. Or, as this Lego creation suggests, pulling at my trying-to-soar feet.
The tension between opposing forces is what gives things energy. Can there be hope without despair? Can there be courage without fear? I don’t think so. I think the pull toward despair and the equally powerful pull toward hope is what sends energy into the world to help us make decisions, to make the choices that guide our lives and keep us in line (or not) with our guiding values and principals.
This isn’t just about big decisions…it’s as much, if not more so, about everyday choices. I took a walk and stretched this morning, and that was a choice toward hope because it makes me feel good, I feel in line with who I am, and that makes me hopeful.
Related to all of this talk about decisions and the relationship with hope and despair is the idea that we need to check in with our logical, rational thought AND with our feelings when we make decisions. Good decisions can’t just be about facts or about impulsive emotions. We have to check in with our heads and our hearts.
That is what I did last week. My head kind of said don’t go to Florida (although I’m not sure the facts are certain on that either). My heart said 100% go. I took both into account, and I’m glad I did. COVID has been a long haul, and I’m starting to think it will be a part of our lives if not forever, then for many years to come. I’m not going to live another year or two without seeing the people I love and doing the things that make me feel vibrant and alive. I want to make wise choices that are guided by facts and information and by wants and desires.
Look at this Lego sculpture. Those flying people are risking. They could crash and fall. Even in the installation, they are dangling by a thin, little wire. Yet I want that to be me. I don’t want to sink into the red hands of despair trying to pull me under. Tension, struggle, risks. It makes life interesting, don’t you think?