Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption
Hope felt easy, fluid, mine for the taking when I was younger. I hoped for shiny new consulting projects, extra time off for vacations, sunny days in cloudy Portland, Delta breezes in stifling Sacramento. Lovely to wish for but neither life altering nor devastating when they didn’t happen.
Hope became real, solid, important and out of reach once my son Jimmy was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. I clung hard to visions of minimal cognitive damage from radiation, chemotherapy mopping up the remaining cancer cells, fertility, no need for hearing aids. I hunted desperately for signs from the universe, especially on scan days, deciding that a penny face up in the dirt, a blue-green dragonfly clinging to my car’s side mirror or the imaging tech running late were all indications that the MRI would be clear or at least stable. I stopped searching for signs during the final year of Jimmy’s eight year cancer odyssey, once the scans turned bright white with cancer cells and stayed that way.
I had long thought of myself as an optimistic, bright side, glass-is-half-full kind of person. That changed after Jimmy died. My hope went dark, and fear got the best of me. When Molly didn’t respond to a text one night, I convinced myself something terrible had happened to her, forgetting that she was taking a three-hour final exam. When Dan didn’t call at the time I expected after landing in Italy on a business trip, I concluded the plane had gone down. My world shrunk to two options – dead or alive. My brain couldn’t consider other possibilities.
I don’t remember a particular moment when I invited hope back into my life. When I learned life could still hold magic and beauty, even in the charred aftermath of my life-shattering loss. When I came to understand that real hope is forged from adversity and struggle. Perhaps, like a dandelion emerging from a crack in the sidewalk, my hope sprouted from discovering I could still trust the world and other people, even as I felt alone, abandoned, cursed. Maybe it stemmed from finding my clan, my handcrafted family, whose members love me fiercely and will see me through, no matter what. Together we learned that no matter how battered and broken we are, if we stick together, we can still find the light. Navigate our way forward. Believe that life is still worth living.
Amid the mystery and drudgery of ordinary life, I still have moments when hope recedes, and I feel lost. Days when I struggle to remember that I have built something beautiful out of the wreckage caused by my son’s death. A creation and community inspired by and infused with Jimmy. A space and a place I would abandon in a heartbeat to have him back. But I don’t get to choose that option, so I lean into the way my work and my writing call Jimmy forth. Remind myself that he is teaching me still. Encouraging me to keep learning and growing, to find ways to be more patient and kinder than I ever would have been had he lived. To look for the essential goodness in others. To reach out to those whose lives have been devastated by loss, often in ways I can’t even fathom. To sit with those brave, beautiful souls in the darkness, witness their pain and hold their hands, knowing that all I have to offer is love and attention. That somehow, most of the time, that’s enough.
As I watch the sun set through the branches of the oak tree outside Jimmy’s room and the twinkling lights emerge in the fire-orange and indigo sky, I remind myself that the stars were still there during the day. That we are all made of stardust, connected, the scientists say, to every other living thing, and, I am determined to believe, to those who are no longer earthbound.
We are improbable and enduring. Divine and precious and full of luminous light. We spend only a short time gathered together in this human form before exploding out into the universe to rejoin the eternal dance.