Photo Credit: Sandy Normand
Hope is an elusive thing. My soul needs it like my body needs water – hour after hour and day after day. Like water, hope can be held inside me for a while but then I have to find a source outside myself. When I’m drained or overwhelmed, sad or frustrated, lonely or exhausted, sometimes I cannot find the energy to walk to the well. Sometimes I forget where it is.
Here’s the thing. I put on a good show. When life is crazy, I get up and get busy. I make the meals, drive the cars, finish the projects, clean the house. I make lists and hold things together. My default when I have had enough is to do more. I forget where the well is. I deny that I need the well. I delude myself into thinking that what I’ve stored up inside me will be enough. Until it isn’t.
Three years ago, I ran about six months past empty. I was starving for hope, and starvation creates desperation. If hope is like water, then starvation is arriving at the well to find it frozen. Desperation is like trying to thaw it with a screwdriver when a torch and a cup are sitting right in front of you.
Three years ago, in the midst of depression, I kept trying to use a screwdriver. I saw a counsellor but I couldn’t hear him. I asked my husband, parents and friends for help, but I didn’t know how to receive it. I had become so accustomed to isolating myself and trying to hold the whole world on my shoulders that I forgot how to listen and how to receive. I forgot how to drink the water I needed to live: hope.
Hope is the possibility that I will survive when I feel like I cannot. Hope is the promise that I am not alone even when I feel like I am. Hope is the assurance that morning light will eventually break the darkness of night. Hope is the tiny drop of water that forms on my screwdriver.
Eventually, I reached out enough that I was able to receive the help I needed, and I allowed myself to be carried out of the pit of depression until I could walk again. I would love to say that the days of overwhelm and exhaustion are behind me, that I have found the solution to the problem of being frozen out by desperation. But that would be my denial and delusion talking. I want to be superwoman, but I am not. I have to keep going back to the well for hope. Day by day, and sometimes hour by hour, I have to remind myself there is a well.
I have learned, however, that the well is never farther away than I can reach. Once I remember to ask God for help, the well shows up in my life, and if I will set down my screwdriver, I find a torch and a cup. I have grown to recognize my thirst before I’m starving. These days, I am asking for help sooner. I am better than I used to be at really receiving the help that is offered, at being moved, affected, and genuinely cared for by it instead of immune to its relief.
One day in the middle of our first real cold snap this winter, I was driving down the street by the university. I was feeling really tired, and growing aware that I had been carrying more stress than I had been acknowledging. I was grieving, but I would not let myself feel sad. I whispered, “Help” and I could see the prayer in my breath. Campus was overflowing with people walking outside in the otherwise deserted and frozen streets. And before my breath had dissipated, I saw them.
The couple was walking down the path, talking to each other through their scarves and holding hands through big mittens. Thick protection from the cold, those mittens were made for walking in winter. Neither she nor he could not feel the warmth of the other’s palm, or interlace their fingers. But they were holding hands anyway. And without knowing it, they were my well.
I went home and I did the things that had to be done, but no more. I fed kids and sat on the floor to play. I put away the lists and nothing fell apart. Then I let myself cry, used insufficient words to try to say what my heavy heart was feeling. I let my husband hold me and went to bed early. I’m not sure why I think that I cannot have hope unless and until all the problems are entirely and perfectly solved. Thirty degrees below Celsius is an unlikely occasion for being barefoot, but hope is available to me, even through mittened hands.