This is Where Hope Lives

Google told me I had ten years to live. Ten years.

Isaiah turned 10 this year, and he’s only just begun to live a life. Ten years isn’t long enough. I never had a plan for how long I would live, does anyone really? But I definitely imagined I would be alive well past 55. And I would certainly be alive to see Ezra graduate from high school. I would be alive to enjoy retirement and an empty nest with Robert.

When Google told me I had 10 years to live, I was mad. I was mad in a way I have never felt before. I asked all of the typical questions one might ask when faced with tragedy: Why me? Why now? Why is this happening? Why do I have to be one (or five) in a million? What will my children do without a mother? What will my husband do without a partner? What will my mother and father do without a daughter?

My grief was messy and passed in waves, or sometimes just sat like stagnant water. I grieved for myself and the life I imagined I would live. I grieved for all of the big and little things on the list of things I would miss. I would miss my kids’ graduation from college. I would never be a lady who lunches. I would miss the smell of lilacs.

I couldn’t seem to get to the end of the messy and stagnant list of all the things I would miss. If I’d written it all down, I could have crumpled it up and set it on fire. Or crushed it under the heel of my shoe. But I never wrote anything down; and, eventually, I let it go.

I let it go, and found inspiration in poetry. And the little things. T.S. Eliot writes to “Wait Without Hope” and I understood that I wasn’t ready for that and thought “Hope is a thing with feathers” and I tattooed that feather on my right arm as a reminder to hope, and breath.

Life moved on around me, and I came to terms with the fact that my blip of a life in the cosmic scale of existence both mattered and didn’t. I went to school each day. I read books and taught my classes. I made my kids lunch and I fed the dog. Nothing stopped for me, and I didn’t want to fall behind, and so I ran to keep up with my life.

I let go of the grief, and found inspiration in stories. I listened to the Radiolab podcast about “The Dirty Drug and the Ice Cream Tub” and I almost believed in miracles. That “molecule dug out of a distant patch of dirt” has, for now, saved my life. A cure would be better, but a treatment will do. And I have so many strangers to thank for the audacity to hope. I listened to the podcast again and again and shared it with everyone who would listen. It’s about “an ice cream container that may or may not be an accessory to international drug smuggling, and – most important of all – an obscure protein that’s calling the shots in every one of your cells RIGHT NOW.” And it helped me reconcile that I won’t ever be the one calling the shots–which is both a relief and a disappointment.

I’ve always loved star gazing, it makes me acutely aware of my mortality and the speck of dust that’s my time on this earth. But I also imagined that I would have a whole long life to live. So much time (and so little) to do everything I wanted to do. To see all of the things I wanted to see. To look out at so many night skies from so many different places. To think about my existence as both meaningful and meaningless.

T.S. Eliot writes, “So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing,” and I realize it’s okay to be angry, to be a mess in grief. Because in the stillness is the dancing–and when I close my eyes, or look at the stars, I can let go of my messy grief and find the courage to hope.