weekly challenge: FINDING HOPE

By Sherry Marr

Seed Mother Rahibai Soma Papere (India)


Do not lose hope – we were made for these times. Look out over the prow; there are millions of righteous souls in the water with you. We have been training for a dark time such as this since the day we assented to come to earth.

When a great ship is moored and in the harbor, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. It is not given to us to know which acts…will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

— Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I am glad to note that this sage still believes in the transformation of consciousness on the planet. Whether before or after cataclysm, I suppose mankind will be forced to re-learn the Old Ways of being with the natural world.

Pam Houston, in her book Deep Creek, ponders: “How to be with the incandescent beauty of the iceberg without grieving the loss of polar bear habitat? How to hang on to that full-body joy and still understand it as elegy?”

That is the dilemma I find myself in. Exactly. Beauty / Elegy.

Pam says it is the best time to write odes to nature, when she is critically wounded at our hands. “I wait to feel a glimmer, a vibration, that says, ‘Hey writer, look over here.’ [It is the way] I have written every single thing I have written. It is also the primary way I worship, the way I kneel down and kiss the earth.”

Me, too. I was happy to read both of these quotes this past week and, especially, Pam Houston’s book.

Clarissa and Pam have put it into words far better than I ever could. These days I feel I am living with the two sides of my heart – joy and gratitude at the incredible beauty of the landscape around me, at the same time feeling such grief and guilt at what our species is doing to Mother Earth in this Age of Extraction.

How do we stay hopeful, yet not in denial, fully here in the present moment?

I have been in love with the natural world all my life, walking with head tipped back, and grinning at the sky. It is a hard thing to see her suffering. A friend, a lifelong environmentalist, told me once, “Mother Earth feels your pain. Let her feel your joy too.” I have always remembered that.

I marvel at how faithfully Mother Earth moves through her cycles, no matter what imbalances are happening. There is so much life everywhere! Everything in the natural world is trying so hard to live. Everywhere there is a wound, I watch little green tendrils begin to grow, to repair and heal the area. One of the lushest places on earth is Chernobyl, which began to thrive once all the humans were gone.

Indigenous people live with strict protocols for how they live upon the land. If they strip bark from a tree for basket making, they leave that tree alone for 150 years to heal. If they take one tree for building a canoe, they leave the entire forest alone for 250 years – they view clearcutting with horror. There is a great learning curve for us in their teachings.

Each walk on the beach fills me with awe. From the tiniest velellas to the wildest winter tides, Mother Earth is alive, constantly in a state of growth, renewal and healing. She needs us to give her some help. And many are doing so, all over the world.

Joanna Macy says “You are alive now for a reason. Because the truth is speaking in the work, it unlocks the heart.”

An open heart means pain. But a closed heart that turns away doesn’t get anything done. Those of us who are strong enough are called to the work: of bearing witness, of sharing information, of protecting trees, of making conscious choices that help the earth. (In Tofino, we are boycotting buying the CoOp’s avocadoes, since they come from Mexico. Environmental activist Homero Gomez Gonzalez, who opposed destruction of habitat of the endangered Monarch butterfly for growing the green fruit, recently died, likely murdered, as have been 19 other environmental activists, killed by local cartels fighting over the avocado trade.)

One person can do a lot, as we see with Jadav Payeng of India, a poor farmer from a marginalized tribe, who spent thirty years planting trees, turning a barren area into a thriving forest, when he noted snakes were suffering and dying.  Or Seed Mother Rahibai Soma Papere of India, who protects and preserves India’s indigenous seeds, and encourages farmers to switch to local varieties.

Then, of course, there is Greta Thunberg, one small, humble girl, a clear-eyed truth-teller.

Each of these people gives me hope, showing how much one person, one voice, can do. I see our poems as part of that work – to celebrate and love the natural world, and, sometimes, to write poems that help others see what we see and begin to care, too. Our love of Mother Earth motivates us to do what we can to try to save her.

Perhaps the most hopeful thing of all is looking to the more spiritual side of life. Life is not just physical; when we remember we are Soul and Spirit, and that there has always been a spiritual dimension in all cultures since time began, perhaps therein lies our greatest hope. There is an energy at work in the world that we can align with and tap into. Through Spirit-Eyes, we can envision a more viable world: a world of sustainable practices, of social justice, of clean energy, of rebalancing the earth so all may live. This is how we were meant to live, in harmony with the natural world and other creatures. One way or the other, I believe we will re-learn how to do this. (The indigenous peoples of the world can teach us how.)  The transformation of consciousness is happening. The fact we are discussing this now, in a poetry forum, when five years ago this conversation would not be happening, tells me we are waking up. We are waking to difficult times, but we can clearly see what needs changing.

Today we’ll sing a hopeful song. Tomorrow maybe we will plant a tree! Or a garden that invites bees and butterflies to our yards. We might turn our front yard into a veggie garden, so we can eat local, without pesticides – and in case the system breaks down, as Tofino’s did the other week when the only road in through the mountains collapsed. (I plan to grow kale and scarlet runner beans on my tiny balcony this spring.)

The vastness and power of the sea, the cathedral of the old-growth forest, sunrises and sunsets beautiful enough to break your heart – so much to love! Let’s send our poems out like love songs. Love heals. And hope gives us strength for the days ahead.

How and where do you find hope? Write big picture, if you wish. Or find that tiny miracle that makes you catch your breath in awe. Let’s add our small push to the transformation of consciousness that is trying so hard to happen across the globe. I look forward to reading how you hold onto hope, and we invite you to join in the discussion in the comments section.

— Sherry


In earthweal weekly challenges, poets are asked to submit their perspective on global events in verse. Local flavor is especially welcome—include your state or country with your name in the link. The challenge launches first thing Monday (EST) and remains open until Friday afternoon. Feel free to contribute multiple times if it magnifies the theme.

Friday afternoons at 4 PM EST we launch an open link weekend where poets are invited to contribute more widely

19 thoughts on “weekly challenge: FINDING HOPE

  1. Excellent post Sherry — I just love that bit from Estes — “When a great ship is moored and in the harbor, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.” Hope is essentially about the heart, and what do we really know about that organ? In my experience, it was grief that showed me the true beauty of the world; when my brother died suddenly in 2008, that April morning was insanely, profanely beautiful. Beauty and elegy, as you say, are intimately paired. Is beauty the point of the grief, and vice versa? I wonder. The Greeks believed Eros was bittersweet, as any living attachment must be. A damaged world is bittersweet. Our hope too is bittersweet. But hope clears enough ahead to step forward. To grieve some more, and hope. We hope and grieve, grieve and hope. Thanks for clearing this space. For showing how big the sails really are. Looking forward to the work we see here this week, in whatever volume it comes. Hope makes the most of what is, as opposed to despair, which shrinks everything out of sight. –Thanks again — Brendan


  2. “The fact we are discussing this now, in a poetry forum, when five years ago this conversation would not be happening, tells me we are waking up. We are waking to difficult times, but we can clearly see what needs changing.” You are as fine a writer in prose as you are in poetry, Sherry. I’m happy to have the inspiration of your words to look into hope! Today I am pondering the cost of things–like the price of an avocado. There’s a gloom to that, but maybe being able to calculate the cost is awareness is hope. Therein lies a poem, and maybe more awareness. It’s a house of mirrors and magic.


  3. Hi kids, thanks for your wonderful words! So happy to see you here. The hope that came for me this week sparked prose, but I will find a poem or two as well as the week goes on. Brendan, I love “showing how big the sails really are.” There might be a poem in that. First Nations are rising across Canada this week and are shutting everything down. There is great hope in that. It is long past time for the colonial capitalistic system to change. Standing Rock has come to Canada, but in numbers too great to quell.


  4. I have felt that, too, in times of grief and loss, Brendan, a shimmering beauty, the world incandescent, and our astonishment, at the two states co-existing. It is how I feel now, in the climate crisis. Susan, the cost of an avocado, as so many things, is greater than we knew. Good to see you here, kiddo.


  5. So good to see the other side of destruction today, Sherry. As always, you know how to phrase your concepts so they penetrate the fog. We can pay as much attention to what is wrong by writing with hope, by considering possibilities, by recognizing those busy realizing small dreams, as by bleak appraisals of all that has gone wrong. Spirituality for me is finding a balance with what is invisible but powerful inside us, and the material world with all its pitfalls, darkness and pain. Hopefully we can learn to lean into that milder wind which blows away the smoke without fanning the destructive fire.

    I have nothing at the moment for your challenge, but if something should sprout, I will be back.


  6. Well…I’m not sure my poem meets the remit, exactly. I worry about false hope – I think we innately feel hope and optimism, and that can blind us to what is happening around us. It’s finding that space between beauty and death, hope and despair, that is so important and so difficult.


  7. Lovely to see you here, friends. Sarah, I LOVE your poem, it is perfect. And I agree, false hope is preferred by what those who don’t want to see the trouble we’re in. A truer hope is looking at what is, and trying to find ways to work towards something better, however that looks to us. In our communities, there are so many ways to respond to the climate crisis with actions large and small. (I am fortunate to live in a very environmentally-aware village.)

    I love what Brendan said about “showing how big those sails really are.” Bigger than we realize.

    We can also be vocal about what needs to change to elected officials (who are some of the biggest deniers in the room). And VOTING is so darned important, as we have seen since 2016. I am so happy to see you all here, and to read your words. We will discuss some of the hard issues too, because, as Sarah says, we need to find our balance in the real world. I guess the trick is to look for what we can do, in small and larger ways, to find positive ways forward. And I KNOW there are many things we can do. We likely all are doing some of them now.


  8. My poems (and I) have been in some dark, despairing places these last few months, and I certainly have had no patience with false hope. But one of our foremost climate scientists was recently on TV spelling out why all is not yet lost … and then in my own garden a small (yet huge) miracle showed me it is not yet time to give up (and sparked a poem which seems suitable to share here). The wonderful words of Clarissa Pinkola Estes and these others offer yet more hope, of the well-grounded, authentic kind.


  9. I think of those big sails Brendan speaks of. On the news today, Canda, the US and Australia are at the bottom of the heap when it comes to making changes that address climate change. It is very frustrating. I think the answer for our personal well being has to be hope plus action – what action we can do.The larger picture is in the hands, sadly, of those who care only for money and power. We have to vote them out.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I think it’s important to observe & lobby our municipal governments. Go to their meetings, be seen, let them know they are working for us, maybe even ask a question or offer a comment. I was speaking to one of our Councillors yesterday and he surprised me. Our letters are being read, heard, even felt. We can have impact. And when we are being ignored–that is the time for direct action & civil disobedience. 🙂


    • You are absolutely right, kiddo. I have seen that we have impact at the local level. And, as the RCMP withdraw from Wet’suwet’en territory this morning, civil disobedience in large numbers has even more impact! Yay!


  11. I am so glad you did, RedCat. Your words are truly a meditation on peacefulness. We need to try to maintain some inner peace in the outer chaos, in order to take care of ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is so timely and beautiful. I love the quote that opens your post. The part about the ship brings tears to my eyes. Yes, we all love feelings of safety, but that is not what we are built for and staying safe will not bring about the changes that need to happen. Love this. Thank you for sharing.


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