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It’s been a rough year for many of us. Life seemed plenty complicated before the pandemic hit, and those complications didn’t stop when we went into shut down and major lifestyle changes arrived. They merely grew more tangled. Small difficulties and annoyances morphed into big ones. And big, major life hits took on astronomical proportions.

It’s a funny thing about being human. Most of the time, we handle those hits as they come. We’re adaptable creatures after all. We bend, we weave. Most of all, we compensate. But I’ve found, as the years pass, major life hits tend to accumulate. We may not realize this is happening, as we struggle and survive day by day. But the blows we’re able to absorb when we’re twenty seem to beat on us just a little bit harder when we’ve moved several decades on.

I’m sure psychologists have a term for this cumulative effect. I just know, when something enormously difficult happens to me now—a loss of any kind—it seems to tap into all the past losses I have suffered, triggering old feelings, and making it that much more difficult to crawl out from the pit of despair.

Yes, let’s admit it—we’ve most of us experienced despair, this last year or more. Missing out on seeing loved ones. Missing out on cherished celebrations. Not being able to be there, for those who need us.

I met up with two friends recently, as we’ve all begun to emerge from our cocoons, who lost their husbands this past year. The looks in their eyes as they related this news to me told it all—that stark pain and humble endurance we know all too well. It makes the loss with which I’m dealing—the death of a much-loved, sweet and innocent fur child—pale in comparison.

But another thing I’ve learned: you can’t compare loss, just as you can’t compare pain. All is legitimate. We can’t see inside those with whom we share this planet, can’t say what scars they carry beneath their clothing. What old wounds flare up, when the new wounds come.  We can only extend love from a heart that knows and understands.

But, what of hope? It’s an insidious commodity, isn’t it? It comes stealing in with the light of morning, and it starts singing a gentle song in your mind, one that soon spreads to your heart. We each carry a tiny flame of hope, like the pilot light on a stove. I believe as long as we can keep that flame burning, all is not lost.

We need to feed that tiny bud of fire and life in whatever ways work for us. I’ve been finding my means in music—and nature. As the warmth returns to our northern hemisphere this season, I’ve been spending more time outside. I’ve found a sheltered nook for myself in our woodland, where the light comes and strengthens my flame.

For me, the nature of hope is—nature. What feeds your flame? Cherish it, whatever it may be. And whatever may come, may it help keep you whole, and strong.