I am currently reading A Lucky Child by Thomas Buergenthal, a memoir about Buergenthal’s time in Auschwitz and the years afterwards when he lived in uncertainty about whether or not his parents survived. Earlier this summer, I read The Rape of Nanking, a work that catalogued the atrocities committed against the Chinese.
I seem to read, constantly, literary works that are depressing.
My students have accused me of trying to make them depressed.
It’s not that. I don’t choose literary works that are depressing to supplement my own emotions. I am not reading this to undergo the classic Greek catharsis. Nor do I “force” my students to read depressing literature so that I might have a fraternal moment in which we are all sad together. Because sadness is a community that no one wants to join.
But, in the end, when I am alone with my books and my stories and the stories of my students and friends and family members are like butterflies fluttering around me, I still believe in hope.
I know some of my colleagues, friends, and family members see me as romantic due to this belief structure. They see me as perennially naive and that my innocence can be almost like stupidity. Once when I was discussing current events and the moral and political implications of the events, I was asked, “When did you get so smart?”
I could wallow in this self-pity….People think I’m stupid because I’m hopeful, because I believe in God. Wah! Wah! Wah!
Okay, Grace-less. Suck it up. Because you’ve also been told more often that people think you’re smart. So you can wallow or you can pick yourself up and move on.
I do believe in hope. I believe with every fiber of my being that things can and will get better. And I have no justification for those words. When Buergenthal writes about the last time he saw his father, I would never have told him “This too shall pass.” Or “It will get better.” Or, even worse, “Just get over it.”
I know that, at times, I must tie my hope-filled tongue and allow the person with whom I am speaking to express his/her grief. Because being told that “you’re life is great” or “your life is so easy” does not make the upsetting situation any better. I am echoing my “Get over it” post.
I could have never told the people jumping out of the World Trade Center that “things are going to get better.” I could have never told the people of Flight 93 that “this too shall pass” and that I had hope. I don’t know that I would have had hope if I were on Flight 93. I know that I would have been standing with them to fight off the terrorists. I would have wielded whatever fragment of a weapon I was capable of carrying at that moment. Because, in the end, if hope for myself does not exist, then I will have hope that my actions will create a better future for others.
For that is another angle of hope.
Hope, in my world, is not that things will get better for me. Although I do believe, at this point in my life, that things will always get better because I will not be defeated by my circumstances. But my circumstances are also defined by a very narrow set of setbacks that are not within the confines of chronic diseases, chronic pain disorders, or terminal illnesses.
Yesterday, though, I attended a beautiful wedding in which a friend of mine (the bride) walked down the aisle on the arm of her father. And then she stood next to her groom, and held his hand or kept her hand upon his arm. And then, once they have said their vows and made the sacred covenant to spend their lives together, they kissed and together, they walked down the aisle.
Now, you’re probably thinking that this is a normal wedding.
It wasn’t. Because the bride has a chronic pain condition which is debilitating and requires her to walk with a cane. However, yesterday, she never walked with her cane during the wedding. If you go back and read the paragraph that describes the wedding, you’ll see that her cane, her ever-present companion, was not a guest of the ceremony. It was her companion…sort of…during the reception.
As the bride walked, I saw hope in the angles of her face, in the blossoms resting in the nook of her arm, in the blending of her shadow against her husband’s. I saw hope in the retreating storm clouds and the burst of sunlight that exploded out of the sky. I saw hope in how every careful, measured step was taken and held and she never wobbled, she never lost her grace or the beauty of her smile.
I saw hope in the groom as he quietly wept as she walked to him.
I saw hope when they danced, their foreheads touching, creating the silhouette of a heart.
Because the bride conquered, if only for a moment, everything that held her back and chose to walk forward. Even if each step was a whispered moment in which everyone present held their breaths and just hoped for the best. We did this together. And we were a community of joy, not sadness.
We chose this. We chose hope because its weight is so much easier to bear than despair or sadness or grief.
We know that sadness and grief will come. This is a part of the shared human destiny. We are united in the fact that, regardless of defining characteristics, we will all share in the humbling anguish of pain (emotional or physical).
But hope is the stepping-stones laid out on the treacherous path that will help us navigate past the thorns, the broken glass, the rusty nails. Hope is the quiet light emanating from the stars and planets, last night, after a solid day of rain and the ever present threat of thunder storms.
I believe in hope. I won’t stop believing in hope. I know that I have to fight to find hope, but it will always be there.