Author shares experiences on hope at book signing event
Author Nikki Stern came yesterday to the University to discuss her book “Hope in Small Doses,” which she said focused on her spiritual and mental growth following the death of her husband in 9/11.
Barry Klassel, humanist chaplain of Rutgers, said the Humanist Society brought her to the University, and the American Humanist Association had recommended her.
Stern has written pieces for the New York Times as well as USA Today, and she has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered and various other media outlets, Klassel said.
Stern said she has visited Harvard, American University and now Rutgers and planned to visit Columbia in the spring.
“My main interest is to give hope to people who don’t have it,” she said.
Stern first inquired how people in the audience would define the word “hope.”
Gary Brill, president of the Humanist Network, said hope is the belief that things will get better.
Klassel gave his definition by first recognizing how often the word “hope” is used in conversation, to convey small desires.
“People say things like ‘I hope spring comes earlier this year,’” he said. “In another sense, hope presumes that there is something that’s not right, and that something can be better.”
Stern said hope is a tool used to find meaning and purpose. Both meaning and purpose encourage people and are the only ways they get up in the morning and try their best.
Stern said she grew up in Wisconsin during turbulent times, with a lot of things happening around her. Even so, she said nothing prepared her for losing her husband on 9/11.
She said she remembers thinking that the loss was a seminal event, but she pushed that thought away because she did not want anything to change her.
Throughout all of her ups and downs, Stern said she had a good sense of who she was, although the answers did not come with instructed religion.
“I couldn’t get my head around what happened because it was very private, but always very public,” she said. “On one hand I was a little protected by my skepticism, but I felt relieved in the midst of my grief that I wasn’t questioning how God could do this to me.”
Stern said she could never put blame on God, as she believes he wouldn’t do this to anybody.
“I didn’t look up to the sky and say ‘how could you do this?’ because I knew my whole life that bad things just happen – horrible inexplicable, unbelievable, cruel things upend the lives of good, normal people,” she said.
Stern said she has not changed her central values. She avoided becoming either more compassionate or angrier.
She said what did change was the doubt she had always felt in life gave her an excuse to feel very alienated.
“I had no answers; I had only the realization that life is so uncertain. The things that had grounded me, like my marriage, were gone and had blown up,” she said.
Stern said 9/11 families were becoming icons in a way that made her uncomfortable. They were becoming representative of a moral specialness.
“We look at suffering people as if they know something,” she said.
Stern said she related that to the need people have for certainty and answers.
“I believe certainty is both overvalued and elusive,” she said. “But I wanted to leave the reader with the idea that even in the absence of certainty, hope might exist.”
With “Hope in Small Doses”, Stern said she wanted to drive the point that hope and happiness are possible without certainty. While accepting unpredictability is challenging, humans must accept the things in life they do not know.
“Even when there is uncertainty in life, can all the small pleasures add up and lead to happiness?” she said.
Some people do believe that happiness can be a permanent condition, but the founding fathers probably would not agree to that statement, she said.
“We’re guaranteed the pursuit of happiness, but not actual happiness,” she said.