Gifts of Hope

Last Saturday gifted me with surprises. I wasn’t searching for hope, yet it still slapped me silly with its glorious presence.

After my husband left for his weekly golf game, I blinked my eyes open and realized there was no coffee in the house. I must have coffee, so I pulled on my clothes, grabbed my journal and phone, and walked the three blocks to our neighborhood coffeehouse. I brought my steaming cup to one of the outside tables, and then settled in to watch customers and write a little. I soon noticed a group of women and their dogs gathering at a nearby table. I caught bits on conversation pertaining to the proliferation of gun violence, and yes, I found myself eavesdropping. I turned around to comment, and then, surprisingly, I was invited to join their circle. I spent the next hour listening to these wise women discuss subjects close to my heart. One, an immigrant from a small South American country, gave me insight to the crises in both of our countries. As I rose to leave, one said, “We’re here every Saturday morning. You are welcome to join us.” I had accidentally stumbled upon hope, at a crooked, black rod iron patio table just blocks from my house.

After I walked home, caffeinated and rejuvenated, I decided to hop on my bike and ride down to the historic part of town. My first stop was the small Saturday farmer’s market that is located in a parking lot close to the river. I wandered the different booths, admiring fresh produce and baked goods. One of the last vendors had rocks, crystals, and sun catchers. I admired her work and we chatted about how she collected most of her beads from old jewelry and the prisms from dumpster diving expeditions. I wanted to purchase two of her sun catchers, but she informed me she didn’t take credit cards and I didn’t have any cash. Stupid move on my part when visiting a farmer’s market, by the way. The artist then said, “Take ‘em. You can owe me.” At first I shook my head. “Oh no. That doesn’t seem right.” She replied, “I do it all the time. Most people pay me back, and those who don’t, oh well. They still have my art.” After some hesitation, I picked out my two favorites. She wrapped them up, and then wrote her name and phone number on a small piece of paper. I told her, “Oh, don’t worry. I will be back next week.” She said, “You seem like an honest person. I can usually see it in people’s faces.” I smiled. I will return next Saturday with what I owe her, and will purchase more of her work. This quirky, open-hearted, trusting soul handed me hope at the farmer’s market.

I stuffed my new treasures in my wicker basket and rode down to my favorite outside restaurant, The Bike Stop Cafe, one part restaurant-one part bike rental/repair shop. I left my bike alongside others at the rack, and went inside to order my usual lunch: a veggie sandwich with an iced tea. A breeze was blowing in off the river, and bikers and young families were scattered throughout the patio. Halfway through my sandwich, a man behind me stood up and said, “A man knocked over two bikes. He did pick them up, but then took off. You might want to check if yours is okay.”

I glanced over at the rack, and my first panicked thought was my bicycle was gone. “I think my bike has been stolen,” I gulped. My ten-year old tan Schwinn from Target. The one with the wicker basket and clanking gears. My grandma bike that takes me to bookclub, the neighborhood grocery, and the mail room. I adore that bike. I flew to the rack, but quickly realized that whoever had knocked over the bikes had just moved them. My basket must have become dislodged in the fall because it was now hanging from one of the handlebars. But here’s the amazing part. Just before this discovery, many of the diners were ready to go after the alleged perpetrator. “I think he rode up to Main Street,” they said. “We may be able to catch him.” All these strangers, without even blinking, were willing to run after my nonexistent thief. After checking to make sure everything was working and returning the basket to its rightful place, I waved at the crowd and said with an embarrassed smile, “Thank you. I’m good. You can go back to talking among yourselves.” 

I headed back down the trail, pondering the morning. All I wanted when I woke up was coffee, yet I also found a table of intelligent, social justice-minded women, a generous and trusting artist, and strangers looking out for me. In a world swirling in the language of hate and conspiracy theories, hope just danced with this girl on a sunny Saturday morning. It is easy to become mired in the mud of despair, but often hope tiptoes into our lives, presenting us with the possibility of hot coffee, true human connections, and smiles.

“I dwell in possibility.” ~Emily Dickinson

When I first turned on the trail, I spied this guy slowly making his way across the gravel toward the river. I stopped my bike to snap a photo. He froze, but didn’t retreat into his shell. I said to him, “You’ve got this, buddy. Keep going.” On my way home, there was no sign of him. I’m confident he made it safely to his destination, this little guy with his determined hard-shell self.
Hope.

In Search of Hope/Reality Bites

This past weekend illuminated again that devastating evil permeates our realities. In less than twenty-four hours, back-to-school shoppers and Saturday revelers paid the price of hate and fear. The pictures were terrifying, the words divisive, and once again we stick to our sides, our talking points, like in a bloody game of Red Rover. 

By Tuesday I am heart-sick and exhausted. I need a break. I want to just drive, so I turn up the radio, slip on my Ray Bans and take off down Route 94 in search of hope. The skies are blue. The tunes raucous. Yes, this two lane road taking my little car along the banks of a great river will offer up peace for my aching soul. Yet. Yet as I drive deeper into the backroads, I soon discover that escaping isn’t possible. Not today. Not yet.

I begin to see remnants of the massive flooding that devastated our area last spring and early summer. My first indication that things are not back to normal is the abandoned fields where scruffy weeds clog the once flooded ground. A few bean fields look like they were just planted, rows upon rows of tiny seedlings the first week of August. Water still covers a closed side road.

Then I approach the town of South Alton where I see concrete human evidence of the effects of the flood. Piles of garbage are stacked at the end of driveways. Scraps of torn drywall, moldy furniture, and family memories sit, waiting for dump trucks to clear it away. A few homeowners have haphazardly tacked plywood to garage doors and spray painted warnings to potential looters of security cameras and guns. Appliances litter lawns. My stomach churns. In our old house we fought water in the basement for years. I cried every time it rained, but those tears do not compare to the destruction tucked away in this small, scruffy town. It will take years for these families to recover.

I cross the Mississippi and drive up the Great River Road toward Grafton. High bluffs to the right and the churning river to the left delivers a dramatic view. Still, there are bits of flood residue: yellow police tape strung across broken fences, shuttered businesses, and mud. Mud everywhere water had once been.

When I arrive in Grafton I head up a bluff to one of my favorite vistas, Aeries Winery. Grafton had been under water most of the spring and into June, but now it’s back in business. Bars and restaurants welcome tourists while workers in yellow vests manning huge machinery work the water’s edge attempting to clean up what nature has destroyed. From the top of the bluff, the residuals of the spring flooding aren’t visible. Just a panoramic tableau of a great river at work: tow boats lugging their goods up north, a lone ferry waiting on passengers.

The main purpose of my day trip was to escape from the dark realities in the news and find hope despite the gloom. Instead I drove straight into reality. Life is not all good or all bad, all rainbows or all storms. It’s a complicated palette. One moment your heart is shattered as it aches with grief, but then you smile at the children gleefully jumping on the trampoline next door. This is life. It is why we tell funny stories after a funeral. Amid the mourners as they pick at casseroles and sip cheap win out of plastic cups, stories about the deceased filter through the sadness. Then there is laughter, a funny anecdote. This is reality. This is life. Sorrow, laughter, tears, grief, and hope.

Hope is not denying the ills of this world. It isn’t putting our hands over our ears and muttering “blah, blah, blah” as Rome burns. We must never close our eyes to injustice and lies and pain, yet I also know there is beauty amongst the ashes. On my day trip in search of hope I found it in yellow butterflies, white herons, a glass of rose, and a panoramic view of the Mississippi.

Life’s truths are a paradox. Anne Lamott writes, “Paradox means you have to be able to keep two wildly different ideas in your head at the same time.” Life is hard. Life is miraculous. We sit with the suckiness. We dance in all its joy. We learn to celebrate the paradox. We dig ourselves out of hopelessness and continue to search for wonder. 

“All truth really is paradox, and this turns out to be a reason for hope.” 

“We have all we need to come through. Against all odds, no mater what we’ve lost, no matter what messes we’ve made over time, no matter how dark the night, we offer and are offered kindness, soul, light, and food, which create breath and spaciousness, which create hope, sufficient unto the day.” 

~Anne Lamott, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope

A Serious Thing

It is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in a broken world.

— Mary Oliver

Simple words with simple truths. It is a serious thing to be alive today. The sun is breaking through the clouds on this fresh morning. Strong coffee. Good pens. Clean pages. Perfect ingredients close at hand. Yet. What about the brokenness? 

So much of our world is broken. Massive floods. Angry mobs. Inept leaders. War. Fear of war. Bombs. Young sailors lost at sea. Frightened immigrants. Road rage. Judgment. Hateful words masked as religion. Division. Bitterness. Marginalized people. Marginalized souls. 

Still recovering from a fall, I feel broken. My hip aches. My leg throbs. Torn muscles silently shriek. Tears are small comfort for my whiny ass. My usual activities are stifled with pain. Every night is a challenge. Every morning there is optimism in the mending.

Is my fall indicative of this broken world? Can we get through the darkness? When do we recover? Even though every step brings misery, is there hope in the healing?

I cry. I whine. I wallow in disgusting self-pity, yet…I cling desperately to hope. I continue to believe in grace and dignity and the dream I’ll be able to walk across the room without looking like a peg-leg pirate. Aargh.

This personal pain gives me a crooked kind of perspective. There are times when we have to own our hurt, sit with it, and acknowledge its existence. Even though we are broken, every morning still offers up a wispy belief of a better day, and we declare, “It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in a broken world.”

 Even though there are storm clouds in the distance, hope leads us home.
Even though there are storm clouds in the distance, hope leads us home.

Still Grieving: Confessions of a Stunned Bleeding Heart Liberal

“We are screwed.” This is the message that came from my friend Ryan at 11:53 PM last Tuesday.

My husband turned over and asked what was happening, and after repeating Ryan’s words to him, the tears fell. 

On Wednesday morning, I kept trying to emerge from the quicksand, but I couldn’t get out of bed. I felt drugged. When I finally crawled out from under my covers, I immediately deleted all my social media and news apps. I needed to step away, weep, and attempt to figure out what to do next.

Here is the deal. After almost six days, I am still not sure about anything. My naive belief in democracy has a big, gaping crack in it.

I am not going to engage in the back and forth. I’m too exhausted. I won’t put up with gloating, because considering who is going to be the 45th, that is bullshit, and deep down, you know it, too.

I feel bruised, battered, confused, scared, shattered, and just plain shitty. I’m achy and nauseous, and my optimism has been on the dimmer switch.

I know people I loved voted for this…man. You had your reasons, but you all have to understand at some level why I and many others feel betrayed. Only a quarter of our country voted for him. This is not a majority. My friend Ann said she is angry at the people who refused to vote; that’s the travesty in this whole mess. 

All I know is right now I am drowning in a crazy amalgam of the five stages of grief. 

    Denial: I still can’t believe this is happening to our country. 

    Anger: I’m fuming over the ignorance, the hate, the greed, and the slew of lies that got us into this fucking mess. 

    Bargaining: What the hell? Bargaining? How do you bargain with the devil?

    Depression: I’ve been despondent since late Tuesday evening, and it doesn’t seem to be lifting any time soon. 

    Acceptance? Sorry, Oprah and Obama, I can’t even say his name, let alone recognize he will soon be the leader of the free world. The thought gives me vertigo.

So where do I go from here now that I’ve tentatively crawled out from my safe haven of books, yoga, music, food, and lots and lots of wine? 

I will continue my break from social media. I’ll peek at it, but I’m not wallowing there. It’s too angry, too sad, too much. If you want to contact me, give me a call. We’ll get coffee.

I will concentrate on still harboring the light in the world, which will be even more pressing as we enter a new era. This administration’s decisions will affect us all. My innocence has imploded, but my determination is still strong. 

There is still good. There is still decency. There is still hope.

But right now I am still grieving.

Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.

— J.K.Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

— William Goldman, The Princess Bride

Endure and persist; this pain will turn to good by and by.

— Ovid