Stories of hope and trust during hard times have always grabbed my attention. Especially now, with us grieving so many coronavirus deaths and enduring so much isolation, stories of how people in the past stayed stable in their own grief and isolation help light my path through darkness

Cameron Trimble, a UCC pastor, visited Israel years ago, seeing the impact of many years of Israel’s conflict and violence and hearing countless stories of loss, pain, hope and faith.

One story was from an old woman who made stoles for a living which clergy would wear during worship and other key times. Trimble assumed the old woman had spotted a lucrative niche selling stoles to American pastors, but the woman told a different story.

Years before, the woman and her three children were in an outdoor market; her kids roamed off. Suddenly there was a scream and then an explosion. “I looked back,” the woman said, “just in time to see my children blown away by a suicide bomber.”

The woman’s next year was a numb fog of trying to understand how and why this could happen. Then one morning she realized there were no good answers to those questions. “What would answers bring me anyway,” she asked. “What I had to do was decide how to live.”

Still suffering, the woman began to sew and sell stoles. In her mind’s eye she would picture clergy all across the world wearing her stoles as they stood in pulpits, marched in protests, and sat with the sick. She prayed that every day of their lives the owners of her stoles would bring peace to our earth and love to all people. Daily, she carefully chose where her thoughts would go.

So did Adm. Jim Stockdale, a U.S. military officer who spent seven years in a prisoner of war camp during the Vietnam War. According to student leadership authority, Tim Elmore, Stockdale was tortured, starved, and verbally abused, yet he not only survived the tragedy, he emerged from captivity emotionally stronger and more mature.

Interviewers begged to know his secret. Offering a hunch, Stockdale said he recognized a difference between those who held optimism and those who held hope. “The optimists clung to a superficial wish that they’d be free by next Christmas or Easter or Thanksgiving, but the captivity outlasted them.”

In contrast, Stockdale said he clung to hope, to the belief and the trust, that one day, in the end, he would prevail. He “knew” that no matter what harsh realities he faced on any given day eventually something good would come of it. He realized that from the beginning of time people had made it through unspeakable circumstances and he was determined to make it too.

With the pandemic’s uncertain timeline ahead, what daily beliefs, thoughts and choices are you making, as the old woman and Stockdale did, to help yourself and others stay stable?

Pat Postlewaite is a retired social worker who has loved living, working and volunteering in Owatonna since 1970. She has written for the People’s Press in the past, including a column on loss issues.

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