Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in jail, wrote that the most forbidding aspect of prison life was solitary confinement because it had no beginning and no end. “There is only one’s mind, which can begin to play tricks,” he said. Nonetheless he would not allow himself to despair because “that way lay defeat and death”.
Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist and survivor of the Nazi death camps, similarly remarked that inmates who lost hope in the future were doomed: “With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay.”
Holding on is what we sometimes must do until a situation is reversed, as it usually will be. Rudyard Kipling, in his poem If, wrote of those who possess the world: “If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew, To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you, Except the Will which says in them: ‘Hold on!’”
Poet Arthur Clough also wrote about not giving up, noting that progress might be slow but it is being made: “And not by eastern window only, When daylight comes, comes in the light, In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly, But westward, look, the land is bright.”
St Ignatius Loyola, in his well-known prayer, encouraged all to keep on going, no matter what, guided only by doing the will of God. It includes the lines: “To give and not to count the cost, To fight and not to heed the wounds, To toil and not to seek for rest, To labour and not to seek reward.”
Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata reminds us, also, to: “Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.”
Hope is buoyant, resolute, resourceful. If permitted access, it will find its way into the darkest places, climbing like ivy through cracks and tiny spaces, to take hold and whisper encouragement. Sometimes it must lead us blind when we cannot see the pathway forward and fear what lies around us. But hope is sure-footed and long-sighted, patient and persistent, knows that situations change, develop, turn around. If we do not give in to despair, hope stays by our side, a loyal companion, until we are confident to walk by ourselves again.
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