Google “fierce hope” and this website comes up: Fierce Hope. Yes, another person dying of cancer. Yes, another person writing about cancer. Why write about it? Why read about it? Because today, “they” estimate that 39.6% of us will get cancer. We may not all die of it, but if 1 out of 3 get it, go into your living room and count the people. If there are three of you in the room, then one of you is going to get cancer. I have three dogs. Two of them have tumors. We’re statistically significant. Having gone through this before, I’ve chosen not to cut on them or give them radiation or pills. It won’t extend their lives in any meaningful way. Does that sound hopeless? I think it’s realistic and realism is what differentiates hope from wishful thinking.
I know some people would argue with me about the dogs and my ideas of hope. That’s fine. I’ll leave it up to them to decide what trauma of treatment to put their dog or cat or guinea pig through. After all, the animal can’t choose what to do one way or the other. Humans choose. Humans conceptualize a future and a past and from that decide what procedures, medicines, protocols, and most importantly attitudes will facilitate their healing. Sure, animals bond and some for life, but humans can imagine the future with their children, wives, husbands, significant others, parents, and other relationships. This ability to project what life will be for us without them and them without us binds our hearts together. When those bonds begin to unravel from disease, humans will typically do whatever it takes to keep it tight. Our will to live is innately strong and will pull us through each day until we are on the other side of our worst experiences— at least it should.
Of those who have cancer or other terminal illness, the will to live may be fragile. The disease itself creates depression. Sometimes the treatments cause depression. Depression weakens our will. Terminal illness or the treatment may encourage someone to give up. We might not agree, but we don’t want them to go through pain. We don’t want them to suffer. So, we pray for their healing and we pray they will fight. We search for as many ways as possible to help them get through it. We beg them mentally or literally to have hope.
Whether they latch on to hope depends on a lot of things, but one factor is what their disposition was before the diagnosis. Too many of us walk around in a haze of hopelessness. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States (homicide is 17th) and among young people, suicide is the second leading cause of death behind accidents.
There is no one reason for why someone chooses suicide. Many people have significant problems with mental health. Some may be injured. Others may have had one or many traumatic experiences. Hundreds of thousands are now going through a particularly difficult time. Without discounting any of this, I believe one thing to consider is how much time we spend focusing on things that make us feel weak, helpless, and insignificant. Spending hours watching the news, keeping up with the financial crises du jour, listening to gossip, reading about and comparing oneself to famous people and their perfect lives or their not so perfect lives that are perfectly coiffed and outfitted is spiritually diminishing. Filling our minds with these things doesn't support a hopeful worldview. It does encourage the use of drugs, alcohol, zoning out, endless hours playing video games, obsession with social media, and stepping off the cliff into despair. Time spent on these activities robs us of hope and weakens our will to live.
There is a discernible difference between the will to live of a cancer patient and that of someone who is suicidal. Frequently, a cancer patient receives the diagnosis and it is a clarion call to action. All the fake drama gets eliminated so he can focus squarely on getting well. The suicidal and or even just the emotionally fragile person has no “moment” to mark before and after. He may be unaware of the toxins seeping into his mind and sink deeper and deeper into an abyss. He may not even realize how delicate his will to live is until something challenges him financially, physically, or emotionally and by then, his will may be only a wisp leading to taking actions that are catastrophic. But it is never too late to pull back, to become stronger. A wisp can be enough if there is encouragement and support.
I held a hummingbird once. It had flown all the way from Mexico. That year there was a terrible storm that lasted for days. The hummingbird made it, but was now clutching the screen on my porch window, head flopped to one side. He was lucky. Many didn’t make it across the Gulf that year. Of the ones who did, some were vibrant and strong. Others made it across but were weak and fragile. About half a dozen literally found their way on to my screened-in porch and died. I kept the feeders filled and fresh, but even so, some were just too exhausted. As I held this tiny bird I could feel it’s heart thrumming in my hand. I knew he had a strong will to live to have made it this far, but he was so weary. My prayers felt inadequate. If I had known how, I would have fed it my energy. That was my prayer for the time I held it. I don’t know if it worked or not. What I do know is that when I opened my hand, it flew away.
I choose to believe he lived. I choose to believe that this hummingbird had a fierce will and not only survived the trip over the Gulf, but the Summer and made the trek back to Mexico and the next year came to my feeders where he knew it was safe, where he knew there was food, where he remembered that someone would hold him and send loving, living energy into his weary body. I realize that’s a lot to expect from a little bird, because birds can’t conceptualize the past or the future. What I’m projecting on him is the ability to have a fierce hope. It’s what I would choose for him. It’s what I would choose for humans.
Humans do have the capacity to move their minds and hearts toward hope. Hope is not positive or wishful thinking. Hope is being able to see that there are obstacles on the path, and come up with ways to overcome them. Hope is seeing there are challenges that we can’t overcome and finding another way or even choosing another destination. A fierce hope propels us through the storm that knocked us up against the wall, shoved us to the ground, and pushed us to the very edge of our ability to cope. Fierce hope is a tenacious energy that screams we will not go quietly or quickly, but will fight with our very being and if our very being is fragile, we will rest in the hand of another and let them give us strength.
Most of the things we do take strength from us. Mentally replaying little negative images, holding on to tiny slights, and rehearsing even minuscule derogatory words cut our souls like a thousand knives. It goes without saying that there are some horrors that won’t let go. We can look to Jim Ross as a role model for taking something horrific and turning it into something palatable. He uses fierce hope to make the last of his days the best of his days for himself and those around him. That takes guts. I have no doubt that I would stomp my foot, whine, beat my chest, yell at God, curse the sky and sulk like crazy. Maybe he does. If so, he keeps it to himself. In public, he writes about what’s significant. He talks about how to nurture your spirit. He brings out the urgency of living every day with grace and graciousness. He encourages each of us to focus on the love and beauty around us. These things fuel hope so it becomes fierce.
I love the quote from Shakespeare, “And though she be but little, she is fierce.” A fierce hope can be little. We underestimate the power of a little hope. We deny that even a spark of hope can keep us going one more day. We won’t admit that if we allow ourselves to listen to our hearts and stop paying attention to the blabbering on television and talk radio, obscene lyrics, and vile videos, there is within us a living, breathing, growing flutter of hope. It may be little, but it is fierce. We don’t need to have cancer to know this. We don’t have to have a traumatic experience— financial, physical, emotional or otherwise to know it. It is there within our grasp beating as surely and quickly as the heart of a hummingbird. A fierce hope no matter how tiny can bring us through the worst of storms into a safe haven.
I’m not suggesting we stay ignorant of the world. Listen to the news, but don’t let it debilitate you. Let it inform you so you can make good decisions. Use hope to filter out the fear. I don’t believe we need to live in a bubble. Talk to other people, but don’t let them discourage you. Rearrange their negative energy and use hope to propel you toward your dreams. Observe what’s going on in the world, but don’t let it cast you down into despair. Channel your deep caring into gratitude, forgiveness, grace, and use hope to take positive action. Fiercely hold to hope. Nurture it. Cherish it. Love it. Take care of it. Feel it’s thrill in your heart. Pour all your thoughts into making it come to life and it will. Your hope might be little, but it can be fierce. And even a tiny bit of fierce will get you through dark times and strengthen your bond to Life.