We asked writers, artists, readers and anyone with a story to share to share their interpretation of the theme: “hope.”
Contributed by an anonymous writer, this moving essay is the first response to the call.
Whilst There is Breath There is Hope
She had mothered me out of my traumatic teenage years and into adulthood. She had coaxed me back from my first dark night of despair with tenderly enforced trips to quiet cafes to drink tea and smoke cigarettes. She had tried to love me by plugging holes as my vitality leaked away.
On a hot Saturday afternoon she took a rope, tied it to a tree, fashioned a noose and hung herself. He told me later that when he’d found her her toes hovered an inch or two from the ground, the bough of the tree couldn’t quite reach to put her down.
She died and I didn’t
I took scissors, which had only been returned to the drawer along with all knives after her death, and cut late spring flowers from her lovingly tended garden. Her suicide note revealed she had planned to die there but ran to the woods when it was realised she had escaped from the house. Without knowing what else to do I took the flowers to the tree and placed these delicately pathetic offerings of aquilegia and poppies at the edge of the gaping abyss- where despair had run out, movement ceased, breath ran out. It was an offering of love, mine and hers, left to wither at the place where hope ran out.
My whole adult life I have ricocheted between the opposing poles of hope and despair, at one extreme the pull of suicidal thoughts, a desire to delete myself, and at the other the magnetic draw of hope; salvation by the blessing of external circumstances, or to put it another way, a feeble belief it’ll all work out in the end. Both poles are dangerous. When this kind of hope gets shattered time and again by life’s ordinary offerings of trauma and disappointment the downward spiral to the opposite pole becomes a well trodden path.
Arriving at despair, this time as a mother, prompted a different course of action. I feared for myself less than I feared that my children might become motherless so I asked for a new model of hope.
The NHS, unsure what to do with me, sent me on a meditation course. Every Friday afternoon, I sat with my comrades from the four corners of Despairesville and we learned to watch our thoughts. At first I ran at my despair with a war mongering cry, “Come on then you fucker, show yourself so I can annihilate you!” – not quite the mindset the teacher was looking for, and with a bemused kindly tone he encouraged a friendly, compassionate approach.
We practiced listening to sounds; silent sounds of the room, the faulty fire alarm that blipped, gurgling stomachs. Immersion in the sensory awareness of life was a welcome break from the analytical mode I usually inhabited. We watched our breathing, we watched our thinking, we felt the tingle of aliveness in our muscles. We dwelled in our bodies and in our pain; we did not run from it. Actually we did, constantly, but we tried to notice ourselves doing it and not tell ourselves off.
I didn’t like much of what I saw. But a tiny miracle occurred; with gentle attention I prised open a paper thin gap between being in ‘it’ and observing ‘it’. That gap sprouted a seedling of hope. I noticed that my immovable rock-face of pain, whether a plague of anxiety-rats scattering around my head, or the dampening thick white-out of depression, was not as solid and immovable as it appeared. Diminutive changes occurred as I breathed. The embodied sense of despair moved, in a geographical sense, across my body. Sometimes it moved like waves, sometimes like slow compacting earth. The important thing was that it moved. As long as there was breath there was movement. Movement meant change and change meant potential and with that came a crack in the rock-face just large enough for my seedling of hope to grow. Not the shiny and alluring hope-as-flimsy-optimism but an authentic hope grew out of the ground of despair.
With achingly dull repetition, meditating led to a fleeting, scarcely perceptible sense of one vast net of interconnectedness; the warp and weft of the present also had living threads that stretched far back into the past and far forward into the future. It was impossible to see it all, only my little corner of it, but I had the sense that whatever I did, even just breathing, it mattered.