What is hope? Several weeks ago, an acquaintance of mine posted on social media details of her health struggles. In the midst of Lyme disease and the resulting other complications (pain, depression, other secondary illnesses), she is still hopeful and has even conceived a timeline for which to get back to a mostly normal life.
I’ve seen and experienced my share of hope, and watched much of it slip away in the passing of time. When I was little, my hope was to get out of the hospital and go home. Three times, actually — I had pneumonia when I was 3, 5 and 7 years old. My allergic reaction to penicillin did not help my prospects. I was fortunate — there were other drugs with the ability to keep me alive. I remember hoping to escape my hospital confinement and be taken home by my parents on my birthday in 1965. That is one of the first wishes that I can remember that came true, ending a period of four weeks in the hospital.
One of my first crushes in college was a young lady from Connecticut named Anne. She sat next to me in chemistry lab. We went on only one date. She was having boyfriend issues; her most recent one was having second thoughts. I remained quite respectful all evening, and the night ended with (note to my daughters, skip this part) the best kiss I’d ever experienced in my 20 years. Being the good guy, I hoped for them to get back together. Ha! Kidding — I hoped that their relationship would crumble like a house of cards in a hurricane. To my dismay, they did get back together. I was devastated for a while. I continued my pattern of becoming interested in ladies who “just wanted to be friends” for a few more years, dashing my hopes until I finally met the right one and married her. I had hoped that she would break up with her boyfriend, and she did! (Note to my daughters: I didn’t cause it — I don’t think.)
I gathered more experience with dashed hope nine years ago when my wife (see above) was diagnosed with cancer. We hoped for a lasting remission for nearly four years, but it didn’t turn out the way we had wanted. She departed this world in 2014. This past September, an exceptionally good friend of mine succumbed to cancer as well. She was the person who introduced me to my new spouse; otherwise, we’d have never met. She fought her disease until the final week, kept her hopes up and remained generally positive until the very end. She became the third person of great importance in my life to die from cancer in only seven years.
Just for curiosity’s sake, I typed “tell me about hope” into an internet search engine. The top hit was the site “tellmeabout.co” and this was written a few lines from the top:
“We can decide to be happy, make much out of little, embrace the warmth of our ordinary days. Life unfolds as a mystery; an enterprise whose outcome cannot be foretold. We do not get what we expect, we stumble on cracks, we are faced with imperfection. Bonds are tested and tightened, and our landscape shifts. In sunshine and in sadness, there is sunshine — look for it.”
After reading those lines, I realized that most of my problems in life, where I placed my faith in hope (and a bit of planning), were minor. Clearly some were major losses. I’m still here, somehow. This acquaintance of mine, like many of my casual bicycling buddies, is someone I know little about. I cannot tell you about her family, or her musical tastes, favorite foods, or most-enjoyed movie. Her will to beat this disease, to get stronger, to power through to the other side the way she conquers a mountain on a bicycle, is quite impressive.
“Inhale courage, exhale fear.” Not my words. They are hers.
William Smith writes from Mount Airy and hopes for a warm winter.