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I recently reheard the story of Pandora. For thems unfamiliar with this Greek myth it is a tale ultimately about keeping hope despite sorrow.  Zeus is honked off at the mortals for having power and fire and basically just for being generally happy so he designs a guaranteed disaster to wreck havoc. He creates the woman Pandora and gives her for a wedding present a jar *  – and tells her under no circumstances never to open it. She’s curious, she opens it, and all the woes of the world fly out. Mankind is forever plagued with war, death and disease, turmoil, and strip malls. However, at the bottom of the jar is one other thing: Hope. Some god (curiously, never named) but Hope in the jar out of pity for mankind so they wouldn’t despair. Despite the woes of the world there is always hope goes the tale.

One of my professors in my residency programme taught us never remove a patient’s hope. Even with the dying provide hope to help make their departure better, less uncomfortable and more meaningful.

I have lots of patients who feel hopeless. Sometimes they present their hopelessness as a sort of challenge like a gauntlet thrown down: “Find some way why I should hope my lot will ne any better”. Sometimes all the hope I can have for them is to somehow alleviate chronic suffering to feel and function a bit better.  I am daily tried by this axiom.  Presently I have a handful of patients for whom I have nothing more to offer or to give them. They still keep coming to see me despite ,my recommendations to go elsewhere (hoping they will find someone who can think of something). You would think they would take this commonsense and logical advice: why stay when someone one can’t help you. There are many reasons why they stay with me, but one of these is hope: they still hope I can do something. To ‘give up’ and go away succumbs to the awful realization I have no hope for them.

The opposite of feeling happy is not feeling sad nor is it feeling angry. When you feel sad or angry you still give a damn about something. The actual opposite of happiness is hopelessness: the emotional conclusion things will never be better or different.

There has been a rise in the rates of depression and suicides and drug abuse in the world (particularly in the USA) correlated to the sense of hopelessness. The still voice of Hope is more readily shouted down these days by the legion of woes emanating from the jar of Pandora. The challenge is to discriminate what looks hopeless but isn’t so from the things that are unfixable. Finding Hope in every situation is becoming harder to do for me.

 

*If you are like me you grew up hearing this tale as Pandora’s box, not a jar.  It turns out the Greek word for jar got misinterpreted as box.  The up to date versions of this myth are reusing the word jar. Also in the original myth Pandora is not an innocent done in by her human curiosity. She was purposely designed by the gods as something malevolent to do Zeus’ biding.

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