Hope – Pay Attention to the Small, Still Voice Inside

August 31, 2020
bird singing in a tree

Editor's NoteThis is part of Nancy's Caregiving series. Please see other posts in this series.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers —

That perches in the soul —

And sings the tune without the words —

And never stops — at all —

I can’t remember at what point in my husband Brett’s long illness that I first re-read these inspiring words by Emily Dickinson, but I do remember the slightest lift upon reading them. What I felt was hope. 

In “‘Hope’ Is the Thing with Feathers,” Dickinson uses this metaphor of a feathered bird singing inside every soul. The bird sings in spite of the surrounding storm and keeps singing. It’s such a lovely image, isn’t it? 

I prefer to think of hope in such abstract terms, even though there’s a trove of scientific research existing today that measures and assesses hope in terms of its relation to goal-setting, optimism, performance, health, and well-being. 

Merriam-Webster defines hope as follows: 1) to cherish a desire with anticipation: to want something to happen or be true. This feels right to me. For those whose lives have been touched by cancer, hope is longing and acceptance and cautious optimism. Hope is central to resilience because it’s impossible to move past adversity without feeling positive about the future. A resilient mindset requires a hopeful mindset. 

By no means do I intend to sugarcoat things for patients with terminal outcomes or for those who have lost loved ones to this dreadful disease. I’m the last person to do that since I know firsthand what it’s like to wrestle with hope for the future while witnessing a loved one die a slow death from cancer. There were innumerable times in our family’s cancer journey when the word hope evaded me altogether, when both the present and future felt nothing but grim. But then the despair lifted ever so slowly and mysteriously. Brett’s circumstances hadn’t changed. The way I chose to live with the terrible uncertainty surrounding his prognosis did. I found small moments to cherish each day—the soothing aroma of brewed coffee, the graceful swaying of a tree outside our city window, the kindness of neighbors, the unconditional love of family. Acknowledging these singular moments built trust and confidence that even as the stable ground shifted beneath me while Brett grew sicker, I could still find glimmers of hope. 

So many of us are feeling despair over a global pandemic that in far too many places is reeling out of control. I certainly am. 

Cancer patients and their families need hope. The world needs hope. 

So, how can we feel a greater sense of hope? Ask yourself: 

  • What do you hope for?
  • What or who makes you feel hopeful? 
  • What small activity can you choose to engage in today to shift your mindset toward a more hopeful one? 

Take note of your answers by writing them down in a hope journal, especially the things that bring you tiny pleasures. Here are a few things that make me feel more hopeful: walking my dog; listening to Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe;” meditating outdoors; sharing a laugh; and making a delicious meal for my family. 

Hope gives us strength to move forward in the most challenging of times. Pay attention to the still, small voice within—your own feathered bird—and let it sing.