“Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances that we know to be desperate.” — G.K. Chesterton
Being cheerful isn’t as easy as it sounds for some folks, and even for the most optimistic people, there are circumstances that try our positive outlooks.
Let’s face it, sometimes circumstances do leave us feeling desperate, but is it enough to give up and proclaim that life is just out of our control? Yes and no.
Accepting our lack of control doesn’t mean accepting miserable days. It kind of reminds me of the bully and the victim; nothing aggravates the bully more than the victim smiling in the face of the threat.
The challenge in any desperate situation, then, is to recognize what is out of our control and find cheer in spite of it. That’s where Chesterton’s hope comes into play. It’s a fact that we will have circumstances that leave us feeling desperate, and it’s a guarantee that with a little cheer we will find hope.
Now 10:15 was 30 minutes away, and it normally was a 10-minute drive. It was a relief to know I’d be early because being late leaves me feeling anxious. Thinking I’d pop onto the interstate and hop off at the next exit to reach the coffee shop, I was surprised to see traffic on the interstate below me looking more like a parking lot.
Not at all worried, I thought I’d just drive a little farther to reach a back road, but the in between street was packed with cars, too. I kept turning around trying to find a faster route, and the feeling of panic set in suddenly, leaving me feeling totally out of control.
Finally, I was able to remind myself of one important solution that was totally within my control: acceptance. As Longfellow said, “For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is to let it rain.” So simple, right?
You weren’t in a traffic jam, but in a long line at the bank. Didn’t that teller know you were in a hurry? Couldn’t he or she make the person in front of you take care of their business a little faster? Perhaps the teller could see you were fuming and tapping your foot, but they couldn’t move the other customer out of the way, and they didn’t lose their cheer because of your bad attitude.
Or maybe you were waiting for a phone call to be returned. “Don’t they know I can’t do anything else until I hear from them?” you ask yourself. You might as well accept that for some reason out of your control, they haven’t called, and it could be for a very good reason.
It’s raining, and you might as well let it rain. You can’t control the weather, you can’t control the customer ahead of you who moves more slowly, and you can’t will that phone to ring. If hope is the power of being cheerful in those circumstances, I can assure you that everyone who has to be around you is hoping for you to grasp the concept.
It isn’t just the outside forces that we must learn to accept if we want to find any cheerful hope, though. There are things going on within our bodies and minds that are also out of our control at some point. You must accept that if you eat as much as you want you might be obese and possibly suffer diseases as a direct result.
We must accept that if we drink alcohol irresponsibly and then drive a vehicle, we risk being arrested at the very least and injuring or killing someone at the very greatest. My friend has had to accept that she has a lisp, but she has chosen to embrace it and be cheerful instead of allowing the difference to pull her down. The gentleman who cannot see as clearly as he once did has accepted that driving a car is no longer wise, but he hasn’t become a hermit in defeat.
Life is full of obstacles, interruptions, and outright inconsistencies. Life doesn’t feel fair sometimes, and often it is not. There is hope for you and for me in the power of our choosing cheerfulness in otherwise desperate circumstances.
Taking a deep breath, I tried to notice the other cars and drivers on the road while I hoped to make my appointment, albeit much later than planned. The impatience of several drivers was apparent, as they rode as close to the bumper ahead of them as possible–fearing, I suppose, that someone might get in front of them and slow progress even more.
Realizing that I needed to get into the next turn lane, I was chiding myself for not getting over sooner when the fellow driving the semi in the turn lane was looking down and didn’t see that the cars were moving.
I joyfully scooted over and waved to thank him as if he had intentionally created the opening for me. It was slow going for an hour, but my panic had dissipated as I appreciated the people who gave me space and thrilled at the opportunity to return the favor to the next person. Isn’t that what acceptance is about, after all: accepting that when it is raining all I can do is let it rain, while finding cheer in the circumstances I might other consider to be desperate?
If there is a slow car or customer in front of you, you might as well accept the fact that you, too, will probably be the slower one some day and smile. If traffic is at a standstill, it would be wise to accept that no huffing and puffing, and no panic attack, will make the cars move any more quickly, so maybe you should look for a positive in the experience. If it’s going to be raining, you might as well let it rain and bring an umbrella, along with a cheerful attitude.