Have you ever experienced such intense sadness you couldn’t imagine ever feeling hopeful about ANYTHING again?

Maybe, like me, you once stood in the corner, gulping your champagne, at a New Year’s Eve party you wished you had skipped. As you watched your friends laugh at a shared joke, you held the corner of a Santa Claus cocktail napkin up to your eye to catch a pregnant tear before it escaped and ruined your perfectly made-up (fake it until you make it) face.

I don’t know about you, but I have had my fair share of dark, bottomless pit kind of days and all too often, I have looked for the lever to the secret trap door that would drop me down through the levels of despair and into the place where the future finally had more light than dark.

Unfortunately, as my therapist has told me, on more than one occasion, the only way past the pain is to walk right through the white hot centre of it.

But, before this post makes you want to reach for the dull switchblade on your 25 year old Swiss Army knife, here is a simple but powerful quote that has helped me through some of my toughest days:

“Extreme hopes are born from extreme misery. ~ Bertrand Russell

In the last year, I have become a cultivator of hope. Yes I know what you’re thinking. Hope doesn’t make the misery go away or instantly transport you into a mythical utopia where unicorns frolic and vibrant rainbows ignite the sky. But, for me, hope is like holding onto a thick rope while walking through a dark cave. You can’t yet see anything, but you know that if you keep walking and keep holding the rope, you will eventually emerge out of the cold dampness of the cave and into the warmth of the afternoon sun.

For me, a tiny speck of hope has led me on an incredible journey from a NYE party when I pretended I wasn’t crying into my napkin to Africa to right here where I sit in a bustling coffee shop overlooking a busy New York street.

Less than a year ago, I was so deep in the cave of despair, I couldn’t see a way out. My boyfriend had broken up with me three weeks before Christmas, everyone kept asking me if I was “excited” about my upcoming final surgery, my best friend and I had a falling out because she couldn’t figure out why I was so negative and sad all of the time, and I was terrified of telling my boss that I didn’t want to go back to my old job as a Recruitment Consultant at a leading technology agency. I felt completely lost and alone.

Then, on a cold New Year’s Day walk, I got to thinking about the word “inspired” and how I wanted more inspiration in my life. In that exact moment, I felt the spark of hope ignite.What if I could do something so big that cancer would no longer be the most recent story in my life? I thought.

This question led me to an impulsive decision to travel and volunteer in Africa for 10 weeks. My experience included caring for a beautiful group of 1-3 year olds at an underfunded daycare in the Townships of Cape Town and then having the chance to traverse through the sand dunes of Namibia, the rivers of Botswana, and the waterfalls of Zambia. Those ten weeks filled me with more joy and hope than I could have imagined possible. Now, I’m on an even crazier journey of hope. But, that is another story…

For now, I won’t oversimplify it by saying I’m grateful for the misery in my life because loss is painful and some of us have had to endure far more than our fair share. But, what I am grateful for is that rope of hope (pardon the rhyme) that helped me put one foot in front of the other, when I didn’t know how I would make it. I’m grateful for the people in my life who held the rope from outside the cave. The people who didn’t try to fix me, or minimize my feelings, or placate me, or even rush me through the experience, but who just stood there. Holding the rope and reminding me ever so gently that someday, somehow, I would make it back out into the light.


Guest Post by Terri Wingham.

Read more of Terri’s writings at http://www.afreshchapter.com