If You’re Feeling Down Right Now, You’re Not Alone. Here Are Secrets to Finding Hope in the Smallest Moments

by ELIZABETH LESSER

Late this afternoon I took a walk up our driveway to the mailbox. At different times during the pandemic, this venture out of the house has been the most exciting part of the day. Today, the sky kept changing from dense fog to scattered clouds and then as I was heading back down the driveway, the wind pushed the clouds over the mountain and the sun poked through with a burst of light. Now that was exciting!

When I got home, there was an email waiting from a dear friend who’d sent me New Year’s greetings and a message of hope from one of my all-time favorite writers, E. B. White. White was the author of essays and stories about culture, nature, and the pressing issues of his times. He is best known for his children’s books, including Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. An ardent letter writer, he responded thoughtfully to many of the thousands of children and adults who wrote to him.

In 1973, when E. B. White was in his 70s, he received a letter from a man named Mr. Nadeau. Nadeau had expressed a bleak and hopeless attitude about humanity’s future and was reaching out to White for some inspiration.

Here is White’s response:

North Brooklin, Maine,
30 March 1973

Dear Mr. Nadeau:

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.

Sincerely,
E. B. White

Now, of course, there are some anachronisms in the letter. We don’t wind clocks anymore, our hats tend to stay on our heads, and we know that a woman can be upright and a man, compassionate. But E.B. White’s optimism and steadfastness are evergreen; they are for all people and all times. We need his words now. I need them.

I like the way White encourages Mr. Nadeau without shaming him—the way he rallies him to hope without sugar-coating the bad times, the troubles inflicted, the messes we have made. I especially like the way he compares human society to the weather: “Things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly.” Who knows? Some of the most grievous issues in our own lives and in our times—the pandemic, the climate crisis, the great divisions in our country—may change and brighten sooner than our fearful hearts dare to imagine.

Today on my mailbox walk, I saw proof of how fast the weather can change. So, when the sun goes back behind the clouds, I’ll hang on to the hope in E.B. White’s words. I’ll heed his invitation to be an upright and compassionate person. I’ll wind the clock, put on my hat, and go out and spread the “seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right.”

ELIZABETH LESSER

Elizabeth Lesser is the author of several bestselling books, including Cassandra Speaks: When Women are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes; Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow and Marrow: Love, Loss & What Matters Most. She is the cofounder of Omega Institute, recognized internationally for its workshops and conferences in wellness, spirituality, creativity, and social change, and is one of Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul 100, a collection of a hundred leaders who are using their voices and talent to elevate humanity.

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