>> Monday, December 14, 2009
I stare out my bedroom window, propped against pillows, wrapped in down. The bare branches of the lilac bush bow deeply, face to the ground, bent heavy by the weight of a dense snowfall.
The tree heaves with burden. The branch would break were it not for the gift of bending.
When tragedy struck close enough to home to rattle my walls, I rubbed my eyes and looked hard at life. Shaking off the excess, I found the core. I saw what matters and shed the rest, layers falling away, dropping to a heap at my feet, where I stepped over them and set off on a path, fresh.
It’s hard to learn, change, adapt, evolve in the face of despair. The weight threatens to pull you down, to break you. But if we orient ourselves toward hope, growth is possible. Clutching hope, we bend until the the burden lightens, and we rise up, arms extended, face turned toward the sun.
Only months ago that tree bloomed fragrant bursts of purple, a fresh breath wafting. In the beauty of the blossom we didn’t see it coming, the naked branches, the brewing storms. (Do we ever see it coming?)
But for everything there is a season, and the hope of another bloom hides beneath the weight of snow.
Hopelessness takes on many forms, Despair shape-shifts.
Cancer. Abuse. Divorce. Natural disasters. Stupid choices. Sometimes we mess things up ourselves, and other times the mess drops in like a winter storm, dumping piles, sitting heavy on our hearts.
I’ve wondered if what I’ve witnessed over the last few years is unusual, an extraordinary degree of tragedy, a pileup of unwanted phonecalls and too many afternoons dressed in black.
Or maybe I just started paying attention. My mother-heart feels an empathic despair that I didn’t always know. War, floods, homelessness, sickness, freak accidents. I think of the parents faced with moment-to-moment crises response, the kids without comfort, health, or safety; and my stomach knots and tightens, sick with angst for these families, be they strangers or kin.
The last few years have been rough for many of my most-loved ones, drop kicked by pain and suffering, betrayal and loss; they have walked through darkening days, seasons slowing to a standstill in the cold winters of their lives.
The holidays spin with images of joy and cheer. But they also pull back the shroud, juxtaposing pain and loss against the glitter of the season. Amid the cheer, they’re there. Burning candles, waiting for the return of the light, celebrating the birth of a baby-king; with empty chairs or hidden bruises or dark, black secret pain weighing down their hearts.
I’ve been touched by the concentric circles of tragedy and grief that ripple outward, but have been lucky to be mostly on the periphery. From where I sit, I can see the hope that sparks, that waits for the fan of the flame.
There is hope in the branch that will bud, hope in the candle burning, hope in the turning seasons, in the return of light. There’s hope in rescue and redemption, hope in humble beginnings with great promises. Hope in a baby's birth.
I want to live hopefully, to raise it like a little candle in the dark of winter. It’s easier to do from where I sit; the trick is learning how to hold on to it no matter the weather.
Hope is knowing that you can bend pretty deeply before you break, that when that snow melts or you find the means to shake the burden from your branches, you will snap back, arms raised high, face to the sun, reveling in the weightlessness of a burden gone.
The seasons change, bringing storms and sunshine. But for everything, there is a season.
That tree out my window may have weathered a hundred winters, but each time the storm hits and the burden bends branches heavy and low, it must wonder, how far can I bend before I break?
When you're bent deep with burden, face to the ground, it's hard to know hope.