04 February, 2012

Hope Springs Maternal

Somewhere in my files of abandoned essays is an essay entitled, Hope Springs Maternal.  I started writing the piece about fifteen or twenty years ago when my children were irrepressibly curious and impossibly busy.  I was acutely aware of my failings as a mother.  I  regretted my short, critical words, my lack of patience, the missed moments of connecting with my children.  I mourned my ineptitude as a mother and held on to the notion that tomorrow, tomorrow, I would be a better mother. A particular incident still stands in sharp relief in my memory.  My four-year old daughter called me into the kitchen.  Her three-year old sister was napping and her brother had not been born.  I was the harried mother of two.  Hannah came into the kitchen with pure joy on her face.  She had something else on her face as well. From check to check she had drawn a red slash of lipstick that covered her lips and an 1/2 an inch all around them.
 “Oh my, what did you do?”  I cried.  In her hand was my broken Estee Lauder lipstick.   Her look of proud joy and thrilled excitement deflated into misery with my harsh words. 
“I wanted to be like you, Mommy!”  I felt dreadful for having hurt her.  Hannah’s eyes welled with tears that she fought to keep back.  Mine did, too.  Immediately, I regretted that I had been thoughtless.  There were so many ways I might have handled the situation in a positive, teaching manner. Instead, in that moment, I crushed her spirit. Truly, I tried to recover and from there, I think I handled things well.  However, as I laid in bed that night, I ruminated.  I distinctly remember the feeling of deep regret.  I promised myself that tomorrow I would do a better job, tomorrow, I would be a better mother.  Remorse is a heavy load.  I discovered that remorse and regret smother hope.
I pause to reflect on this today, the anniversary of the most difficult year of my life.  It is worth noting that against all odds I have survived whole and in tact.  Upon hearing the list of hardships my family has endured over the past 365 days, one long-lost friend remarked that Job has nothing on us.  The same friend offered to drive me to my next doctor’s appointment as some form of meager recompense for not helping more she said. I grasped her outreached hand. 
It is these kinds of generous acts of kindness from others that have illuminated my path and given me hope through the darkness.  Hope.  In the recipe of life, hope shares equal measure with love.  They are, to my mind, inexorably tangled.  Against all odds, hope has wheedled its way into a life that had been nearly crushed by sorrow, fear and pain.  
The descent into despair is not sudden.   I imagine the slippery sides of a cavernous hole disappearing into the ground.  There are handholds of persistent weeds, small outcroppings of rock, and convenient ledges to grasp as the descent begins.  It is a manageable climb with a bright blue sky still stretched above like a taut blanket.  There may be voices calling down echoing and not-quite audible in their encouragement.  At some point, the plunge no longer seems a good idea, but there is no reversing the motion down, down, down. The walls become slick, wet; there are short, terrifying moments of free-fall until an abrupt and unexpected arrest on no more than a toe hold of rock.  Whispered prayer and quiet determination prove no match against gravity for long.  A head over heel tumble through black space suspends thought and feeling.  It ends in a painful HUMPH as the lungs are forced to release their air.  The body lies broken and still while the mind seeks its bearings.  No rays of light touch the walls of this dark prison.  Perhaps there are some muffled sounds from above, but they are hard to too hard to discern above the lupdup, lupdup of the heart’s relentless urge to beat.   
If I were an Edgar Allen Poe aficionado, the story might end here, with a nod to The Tell Tale Heart. Poe wrote, “It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night.” Lying at the bottom of this grave-like pit with only a beating heart for company, one’s thoughts drift hauntingly in dangerous directions. 
However, a single brilliant ray of light can penetrate the deepest darkness.  Emily Dickinson brought us this thought, 
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches on the soul
And sings the tunes without the words
And never stops at all.  
Hope is what fills the body with light and lifts the weight of sorrow before it can crush the spirit.  
As a junior in high school. I read Dantes’s Inferno.  So much of its symbolism and meaning escaped me simply because the landscape of my life had not yet been populated with that kind of sorrow and strife.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow translated Dante’s work with a colorful and rich prose and descriptive imagery.  In the early 1300‘s, Dante succeeded in describing his own view of darkness that was no different than Longfellow’s in the 1800’s or our perspective today:  
He wrote, 
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
Thirty-eight chapters later, Dante reached the end of his journey through the nine circles of hell.  He ascended on Easter saying,
Hence we came forth to rebehold the stars.  
From the fiery gates of hell, a place that represents infinite despair, Dante emerged above ground to witness the shimmering light of distant stars and the promise of hope..  
William Styron made note of this optimistic message –often lost in the telling of Dante’s Inferno – in his book about depression called Visible Darkness.   Stryon’s volume is a small one, easy to hold open in one hand.  The generous chairs at Barnes and Noble provided me with a comfortable resting place to read it, cover-to-cover in one sitting.  Like any great writer, William Styron changed my view of the world with that book.  Not only did I better understand the demons with which he had wrestled for so long, I better understood myself.  
I was never diagnosed with depression, but I felt more than a passing acquaintance with the subject of depression as Styron described it.  Perhaps, unwittingly, I have been wrestling with some demons of my own.  What I did know after reading Styron was that from the time that man has walked upright, he has been seeking light. What I did know was that anything that fosters one’s belief that tomorrow might be better than today is what instills hope among the downhearted.
Whether it’s a penlight, a flashlight or the blinding light of day, when light penetrates the cavernous pit in which the forlorn are entombed, a seed of hope is born.
Hope Springs Maternal
Dawn Elise Evans

Hope is never a leap.  It’s a small series of little movements that hardly qualify as steps.  
Hopes comes unbidden but unceasingly. 
Hope is irresistible and seductive. 
Hope looks like sunshine or a ray of light, a smile, an hour in the garden.  
Hope is a friend’s call and offer to visit.  
Hope is shaped and molded by memories of the past. 
Hope, like love, when accepted and encouraged, can lift and sustain us.
Hope comes dressed as the promise of a tomorrow.
Hope trumps despair. 

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