Crafting Hope

I knew it would be hard to create the magic of surprise if we were all at home when boxes arrived, if we were constantly together while I shopped for gifts locally. Quarantine does not allow for a lot of room to transform into my secret identity as Santa’s chief helper. I planned for over a month, slipped in and out of the house like a burglar, getting up nightly to manage gifts. Finally I scored 4 hours alone in the house on the Saturday before Christmas to wrap and wrap and wrap (thanks Kelly!)

By the time Christmas Eve came I was ready for the final moment. The next morning True and Tadg ripped through the pile of presents with glee. A few of their gifts really landed just as I had hoped. A day of savoring their special treasures lay ahead. I retreated to my room with tea and Christmas chocolates to recover from conjuring so much Santa magic … and then the news of the bombing in downtown Nashville rolled across my screen.

Shit. Really, today?

I watched the first responders speak, having broken away from their families on this important day. Many of them already looked worn, too many months with their game face on from sun up to sun down. I have been expecting this kind of violence as the presidential administration ends, I naively believed that we would be spared on Christmas day. Maybe this was politically motivated, maybe not. Regardless I think the next few weeks may well be much more violent. I just wish it didn’t have to start today.

This is our norm: crisis wrapped in crisis. The pandemic is accelerating, engulfing more people. Financial relief desperately needed by so many was derailed again on Christmas Eve after months of negotiations. Violence is threatened if Georgia senate seats go to Democrats. Closer to home, I have 3 people I care about living with terminal diagnosis, two of them with cancer and young children they may well leave behind soon.

But it’s Christmas.

So what? You know suffering does not take a holiday.

Fuck.

Breathe. Thats all. Thats all you have to do is breathe, look outside at the blessed trees. Breathe…the light is returning.

This is the time of yearning for the light, the time for crafting hope.

We are coming out of the darkest time of the year. These last two and a half years I’ve been walking out of the darkest time of my life, with my two little ones by my side. For many of us these last four years have been the darkest time for our nation. We’ve seen the abuse of power, the destruction of families, our heroes denigrated, that which binds us together torn at, a global pandemic ignored, our greatness used to pamper and coif the least deserving of us. We’re not through the darkness yet, but we are walking forward out of the darkness. There is reason to hope.

I think our spirits are made at least partly of hope.

Until we became used to living as just three, in a new sustainable routine, I was their island of hope. They didn’t know what life would be like with just one parent, how viable would each day be? They demanded a future, wanted to know if I could provide it.

Tomorrow became my job the day their Mother died.

At the root of that is a feeling of hope, a wanting to know that life will embrace them and provide them opportunity to discover themselves in the most profound ways. They need to know their souls can still find a way on this planet, that their spirits can bloom. Not just to survive but to shine as they know they shined when beheld by their Mother.

Most parents come to forks in the road, moments where we can succumb to hopelessness, to feeling lost, to believing there is no path forward. But we are called to choose a path of moving forward that gives birth to hope in ourselves, in our homes, for our children. We will find a way through this forest, even if it looks impossible. We will trust something greater than ourselves in our darkest times. We learn how to craft hope from whatever the moment gives us. We say yes to what has been put before us and our children. Yes this can work, yes we can have a new life without Momma that still feeds each of us. We can still be a family together.

But hopelessness is not without its value.

I know too many people who suffer from depression. It can take them at any time, rob them of their hope or even the memory of hope. Yet somehow there is something in them that refuses to die. It certainly does not come from hope or even love. Maybe its just the strength of spirit they were born with, like the spine of a tree that holds through a storm beyond all reason. In that darkness everything hurts, all light burns, even the gentlest, most sensual caress cannot reach them.

Hope is most resilient when it is crafted from darkness.

When they are able to return by grace, grit, medication or all of these things, they sometimes carry with them a new force within themselves. It is vital, even otherworldly in its feeling, I think of it as a kind of hope that moves like water through cracks in a cave. Maybe it comes from being carved out so thoroughly, so deeply by this horror that assaults them. The way they cherish subtle things, people, the smallest kindness has changed. Everything that does not hurt to touch is now a treasure. For me, a witness to this, they are showering hope around them with little or no effort. They have walked through a pitiless darkness and returned to life.

I have never had to face that kind of darkness, to live without my own knowing of the light warming me. As I age I find hope comes easier, in smaller and quieter moments. The realization that clear water will continue to wrap itself around a rock as it slips downstream is as personal and hopeful to me as a call from a beloved old friend. The spirit that infuses all of nature, though nature is not often kind or given to hope, kindles an unreasonable hope in me without effort. Spirit will never be bridled by our suffering, confusion or loss. Everything, even hope itself, will outlast us.

The craft of hope is no longer a challenge to me, so much as honoring its value in the world.

About a month ago my children decorated the sizeable space beneath my bed with holiday lights and moved their sleeping pads in there. At night they read to each other, draw on the wood of my bed in crayon, listen to me snore as I drift off. After a playlist of lullabies runs on our Alexa device, ocean sounds fill the room. Moons and stars are projected onto the ceiling – brightly colored they spin in rotation for about 90 minutes before darkness is allowed its place. I realized as I was drifting off on Christmas Eve that they probably like sleeping under my bed because they feel held by me, protected and cared for by me. It’s a sanctuary for them, one that is easily gotten without having to do anything other than be themselves.

That builds hope in them that will outlast me. The warmth of that feeling of sleeping beneath their Papa, feeling so safe and cared for, effortlessly.

Today, the day after Christmas, I dragged us up to a sledding hill. There’s no snow at home (3,000 feet), it rained last night. But 5,000 feet had just enough fresh snow for some epic face plants at the bottom of a snow parks hills. The kids were game, not as enthusiastic as I remember being at their ages, but still up for the adventure. My favorite part was tromping up the hill, remembering all those hikes as a kid. I needed to feel the hill passing beneath my feet, letting my mind go into the woods, into the knowing that the snow and this mountain were having their own conversation, regardless of any of us here. The weight of the snow freezing the dirt, turning a small stream into a river of slush, the rocks hidden from the sky for months, the tree roots pressed down as deer rested at their base – this was the real story. It quickly became an easy source of hope.

Who knows what the next month will bring, but the mountains conversation will continue to unfold. Magically.

Blessings to you and yours during this time of great change.