I was five years old and living in Seattle when Mount St. Helens, an active volcano in the Pacific Northwest, erupted. My memories of that day are sketchy. I recall ash on our car, and graphic pictures of the disaster shown in the newspaper and on TV.
Plumes of soot and smoke darkened the sky, trees were blown down like toothpicks. A mountain top was replaced by a huge black crater. What sticks out in my mind is not the mountain, though. I remember an old man named Harry.
Harry Truman lived at the base of the mountain. Prior to the eruption, he was informed that Mount St. Helens was showing signs of impending explosion. Harry refused to leave. He had lived on the mountain for over 50 years. It was his home, his work, his life. On a spring morning in 1980, Harry and his 16 cats perished under a rush of ash, rock, and debris.
Did Harry die because he felt so tied to the mountain that he couldn’t fathom living somewhere else, even it meant death?
Ever since she was nine years old, Amy wanted to be a lawyer. But now she’s 23 and failing law school. If she isn’t a law student anymore, who is she? How will she tell her parents? What will her friends think of her? What is she going to do with her life? She becomes depressed to the point of considering suicide.
People who experience life changing events like divorce, death of a loved one, or illness can feel like they are adrift, with no sense of who they are or where they belong in the world. One event, such as a cancer diagnosis or a house fire, can change the expected path of a person’s life, and the paths of those who love them.
When crisis hits, a future that was once clear and hopeful becomes confused, dark and scary. At times it is impossible to imagine a life outside of the current pain and sadness.
Children are experts at imagining futures. They imagine they’ll be mommies and daddies, doctors and pilots and teachers. Their minds are adaptable and full of hope. It is an ability that can be transformative.
Loss happens to all of us, but rather than getting consumed in hopelessness, it is possible to do something different. When feelings of depression, helplessness, and dread become overwhelming, pause. Breathe slowly and deeply, begin and consider that tomorrow may be different.
Imagine smiling, imagine a kind word, imagine feeling a sense of peace, imagine a moment of joy. Small things, really, but these simple acts can have a major impact on the ability to believe that the future holds good things. The world may begin to look like a lighter, more hopeful place.
Imagination is not just for dreamy artists and children playing make believe. Imagination is being able to construe a future, even though reality feels like a void. Imagination is using hope and creating a story line for a new way of living.
Boy and books photo available from Shutterstock.