In February of 2013, when my dad went into the hospital, I was overwhelmed by the intense, unbearable hope that my dad be made well.
At first, this was hope for a diagnosis. I thought that if we could just name his disease, they could make Dad better.
I was wrong.
When I got what I wanted, I didn’t want it after all. Because the diagnosis was aggressive killer cell leukemia/lymphoma. It was a death sentence. And my deepest hope was for my dad to not die. For him to not be in the hospital with oxygen flowing into his nose through tubes, barely able to talk, having to call in a nurse to help every time he had to urinate.
If you have ever hoped for something impossible, you know how it feels. Like your soul is banging itself against a brick wall. And the wall doesn’t give. And your soul won’t stop. Every time it flings itself it just hurts worse because it’s already so battered and bruised.
Despair–that’s probably what you’d call it–the shadow side of hope. When hope slams you into a wall of impossibility and grief.
The tendency, I think, is to save ourselves from despair by moderating hope. By trying not to want anything too much. This is certainly not a way to live life to the fullest, but it can work in staving off despair–until it doesn’t.
We fall in love. We get sick. We watch someone we love waste away. And the hope sparks and burns into despair.
In my dad’s hospice room, there was a moment . . . When he didn’t have the energy to speak. When his breathing was labored, hollow. When we knew the disease was poisoning his whole body. When his children, wife, grandchildren were gathered around him and the Hallelujah chorus was playing. There was a moment when my deep hope shifted and I desired, for him, his release from that broken, breaking body.
A shift in hope. To hope for something we don’t really want–something painful in its goodness, heart-wrenching in its holiness. Is that a form of grace?
*I shared this reflection at Peace Mennonite on the first Sunday of Advent.