The Joy of a Hopeful Spirit

Like a tired child, America is having a melt-down. Overwhelmed by the pandemic, wildfires, hurricanes, injustice, unemployment, violence, and division, she sobs breathlessly, too distraught to make any sense at all. She needs an adult, someone like you, to pick her up and soothe her with a lullaby of hope.

Speaking of hope in times like these may seem excessively optimistic and naive, but Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not to try.” Where can we find hope enough to calm ourselves, let alone ease others?

First, we can find hope in our country’s history. America has pulled through many times of darkness. In his book The Soul of America, author Jon Meacham reminds us that periods of public dispiritedness are not new and offers reassurance that they are survivable. Through slavery, war, inequality, depression, and disaster, our nation has marched steadily forward to a hopeful chorus touched by what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”

Secondly, we can find hope in our country’s citizens. Mr. Rogers often told the story about being a young boy who was frightened by things he saw in the news. Fred’s mom told him, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” It’s as true today as it was then. Each and every day there are good people working for the well-being of others, and good people always bring out the good in people.

Finally, we can find hope in ourselves. Emily Dickinson wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” The famous poem honors the individual’s capacity for hope. Think of all the times you mustered hope to get through a difficult challenge. Facing our personal trials and tribulations with a spirit of sanguinity offers inspiration to those around us.

With everything that’s going on right now, we may want to throw ourselves on the floor in an all-out temper-tantrum fueled by fear, anxiety, or anger. But we are adults, and children are watching. We must choose to face our struggles head-on while humming a song of hope. As Helen Keller said, “Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.”

The Joy of Having & Being a Muse

A muse is a source of creative inspiration. Muses are typically women and originated in Greek mythology when the nine daughters of Zeus presided over particular areas of the arts. A much loftier word for mentor, a muse can help us create our best life. We can all use a muse or two, and we should all aspire to be one.

In her poignant autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou describes a distinguished neighbor named Mrs. Bertha Flowers. About Mrs. Flowers, Angelou writes, “She had the grace of control to appear warm in the coldest weather, and on the Arkansas summer days it seemed she had a private breeze which swirled around, cooling her.”

Mrs. Flowers became a muse to young Maya (then Marquerite Johnson) and changed her life by exposing her to literature and other “lessons in living.” Angelou writes, “She was one of the few gentlewomen I have ever known, and has remained through my life the measure of what a human being can be.”

Just a year before Angelou died at age 86, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture of hers. Wearing an elegant black dress and pearls, she was a queen who sat on her throne bestowing wisdom, wit, and her own lessons in living. From the moment she walked on stage until the moment she regally exited, a lump formed in my throat, my eyes filled with tears, and I had goosebumps that lasted for days. Only a muse can inspire such a reaction.

Another muse of mine is contemporary philosopher and author Alexandra Stoddard. Through her books and lectures, Stoddard has inspired millions to pursue the art of living. In her book Time Alive, she offers this wake-up call, “Our time alive is brief by any standard. Now is the only opportunity we’ll have to give our life meaning and find satisfaction.”

In nearly all of her twenty-eight books, Stoddard mentions her own muse, Eleanor McMillen Brown, who founded the interior design company McMillen, Inc. in 1924. Brown was considered a pioneer in her field and built a reputation on her ability to combine great style with a keen sense of business.

Finding a muse, or mentor, is a personal journey. She may be someone you admire from afar, or someone you are fortunate to know well. She might even be a fictional character who has become flesh and blood in your mind.

While turning to a muse can help us improve our lives, at some point, we should consider paying it forward by serving as a muse, or mentor, to someone else. A mentor provides guidance, motivation, support, and serves as a role model to their protege.

Some people serve as a muse without even realizing it. In my neighborhood, there are three savvy ladies over seventy-five whom I often see waterskiing, hiking, and doing serious yard work. They unwittingly inspire me to live an active, vigorous life.

As sage women, others are watching us. Remembering this keeps us more accountable for our own conduct and behavior. We may never fill the shoes of Mrs. Bertha Flowers, but we can all aim to be a true gentlewoman and measure of what a human being can be.

Thank you for reading The Simple Swan. I hope you will leave a comment. Who is your muse? Do you mentor anyone? I love knowing what you think!