It is easy to overstate the obvious. Our world has endured mental and physical anguish that takes us back to some of our darkest days, including wars, terrorism, hazards of nature, and personal failure. Covid feels like a villainous twist on a theme, maybe setting a new standard for fear, isolation, and a pervasive sense of loss. We wonder whether there is a future that we want to be part of. I’m here to write, there is.
It’s the old adage, “There is a light at the end of the tunnel.” Of course, we don’t know how long the tunnel is until we break forth into light. We only know that it has been long so far.
A little research into the tunnel expression reveals that it was born in 1879 by George Eliot, who wrote after enduring severe illness:
“I had a rather severe relapse, and though I am getting out of the tunnel into daylight, this renewal of weakness taken with the dreary prospects of the weather under which nothing ripens and fruits hardly escape rotting.”
In plain words, Eliot was able to visualize a “light” at the end of a tunnel—a moment of optimism—amidst the rotting fruit. We have since borrowed this timeless saying to remind ourselves to find hope after a siege of darkness. The question, though, is how.
Surviving tough times has conjured up many sayings, each one offering their own tip. Winston Churchill, who fought long bouts of depression, said something simple: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” In Churchill’s version, we persist until we come through the other end. Churchill’s “light” is about resilience. A happier and harder-to-believe take comes from Reggae singer Bob Marley who sings, “Don’t worry about a thing, ’cause every little thing gonna be all right.”
Can Eliot, Churchill, and Marley’s words help us today in our existential wilderness? My sunny disposition (sometimes nauseatingly so, just ask my husband) believes “yes,” but with some work required. For me, the “how” has three parts. We need to:
- Quell our growing pessimism: The Pew Research Center reports worldwide pessimism is at a high. Four areas were probed—inequality, politics, employment, and education—all returning pessimistic outlooks. For example, 65% of respondents generally felt pessimistic about reducing the gap between the rich and poor. Walt Disney might have had it right when he said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” With will, wallet, and faith, we can be bigger than the pessimism we harbor.
- Empower ourselves through small acts of kindness: We know it is more fun to give than be given to, but both are good. My sister-in-law hand-knit a beautiful hat to keep me warm as I walk my dogs twice daily in the bitter Northeastern winter. The hat warms me both inside and out. Since I can’t knit a thing, it considerably picked up my mood. We all have our equivalents. I try to make the world sweeter through baking. Others offer humor and perspective. Ask yourself, what’s yours?
- Visualize positive outcomes: We need to nurture our kernels of hope, and visualization helps. Seeing possibilities motivates. Just ask uber-performers like Lindsey Vonn (skiing), Michael Jordan (basketball), Jay Z, and Idris Elba (the arts), who all attest to what visualization has done for them. Oprah Winfrey suggests we “Create the grandest vision possible,” and this applies to the ordinary as well as the famous. As I write this, I visualize Covid in our history books. I see tight, long hugs and a Thanksgiving gathering where we sing, “T’is a gift to be simple.” And that’s just a start.
Back to Churchill, who advised that when are going through hell, “Keep going.” This is easier said than done, but if we can believe in the light and maintain purpose, the job gets considerably easier.
This thought resonated with me during an email thread with my siblings. My oldest brother is a physician in New York who was recently vaccinated, and he writes of the raw emotion of the moment—of the “glimmer of light” he could now see. My next brother in the lineup emailed back with questions about whether there were any after-effects. These questions were spawned by his desire that he and his wife travel in 2021 to celebrate her mother’s 95th birthday. The vaccine has him believing.
Yes, the tunnel is long, but I have it on family authority that a glimmer awaits.