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Tempered Hope: Accepting the Light at the End of the Tunnel

TEASER: Many of us have felt partly or entirely hopeless in the past year. But Ellen has learned the hard way that hope is not a luxury good. Claim yours where you can.

As a recovering cynic, I can sense an eye-roll from miles away. I get it, with the world continuing to conjure up new disasters, tragedies, and horrors on the reg, it just feels irresponsible to have any kind of hope. But you have to agree with me that you felt it too, right? If only for a fleeting moment, folks, I believe we touched hope recently.

At moments in my life, I cringed at “hope” and argued against it.

I had run toward the world wanting earnestly to help and was almost crushed by the darkness and suffering I found. I thought hope was only for the privileged few who could say shit like “everything happens for a reason” and who always manage to get to yoga class on time.

How can you be hopeful if your family was killed in a genocide? How can you believe things happen for a reason when your country has been in a civil war for 25 years? How can you believe in any good in humanity after you have met an ex-child soldier who was forced to kill his own parents with a machete? I thought if you were hopeful, you were sheltered, naive, and painfully oblivious to the terrible atrocities of our world and the darkness of humanity.

To say it lightly, I was a bit of a buzzkill.

But really I was sad, angry, and hopeless. And rightfully so. There are some terrible things in this world, and it felt important to me to let people know about it. I thought I had to hold onto being right rather than allowing myself to be happy. I rationalized my negative disposition with the notion that because disappointment felt terrible, not having hope protected me in some strange way.

Wanna know the worst part about being hopeless? It is exhausting AF.

And though I never claim to fully understand another person’s human experience, I do understand what it feels like to be weighed down by life, isolated by your numbness, and exhausted by the most elementary of activities. I understand the days when getting out of bed feels insurmountable. I know what it feels like to be unable to fake a smile.

I don’t remember some blockbuster epiphany moment when things began to change for me. Much of it was a decision to put in the time and work on myself. I began to realize that if I really wanted to help the world, I had to start by having compassion for myself and my own shit, even if I thought I did not deserve it. I had long looked at pain comparatively and thought that it was only after helping those who were hurting the most that I could then get to myself.

I learned the hard way that I had to support myself and cultivate my own hope so I would have the stamina and bandwidth to deal with the world.

The slowly growing compassion I began to have for myself allowed me to reframe my point of view and remember the incredible people I have met along the way. The people who are steadfastly working in their communities throughout it all. I’ve witnessed hope incarnate: whenever something tragic happened, there were always helpers right there along side. I began to understand that people who make the biggest difference not only had a large capacity for hope, but also the best sense of humor.

Their hope is not naive, but tempered through their own experiences of tragedy and redemption.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I know what hope feels like because I also know what it feels like to not have any. And at times of so much uncertainty, division, and isolation, it is so easy to feel discouraged and disillusioned.

At the risk of sounding naive, I am still firmly suggesting the importance of cultivating hope. So please go grab some hope in whatever form you dare. Whether it is soaking up that almost spring-like sun, embarking on a socially-distant walk with a friend, cooking (or ordering) a delicious meal, or enjoying your favorite adult beverage. It is these simple moments that restore us and get ready for whatever 2021 is going to throw at us next.

Ellen Cosgrove

Lover of learning, nerdy ideas, dry wit, cooking and eating delicious food and generally going back to what brought her joy at the age of 8. She lives in NY and is a consultant and runs a project called Dinner & Dialogue (

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