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Posts Tagged ‘hope’

Loving Working

“We clean to give space for Art.”
        Micaela Miranda, Freedom Theatre, Palestine

Work was a shining refuge when wind sank its tooth
into my mind. Everything we love is going away,
drifting – but you could sweep this stretch of floor,
this patio or porch, gather white stones in a bucket,
rake the patch for future planting, mop the counter
with a rag. Lovely wet gray rag, squeeze it hard
it does so much. Clear the yard of blowing bits of plastic.
The glory in the doing. The breath of the doing.
Sometimes the simplest move kept fear from
fragmenting into no energy at all, or sorrow from
multiplying, or sorrow from being the only person
living in the house.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry – with an emphasis on women of color – here on Fridays this month, as I do every year. 

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Insha’Allah

I don’t know when it slipped into my speech
that soft word meaning, “if God wills it.”
Insha’Allah I will see you next summer.
The baby will come in spring, insha’Allah.
Insha’Allah this year we will have enough rain.

So many plans I’ve laid have unraveled
easily as braids beneath my mother’s quick fingers.

Every language must have a word for this. A word
our grandmothers uttered under their breath
as they pinned the whites, soaked in lemon,
hung them to dry in the sun, or peeled potatoes,
dropping the discarded skins into a bowl.

Our sons will return next month, insha’Allah.
Insha’Allah this war will end, soon. Insha’Allah
the rice will be enough to last through winter.

How lightly we learn to hold hope,
as if it were an animal that could turn around
and bite your hand. And still we carry it
the way a mother would, carefully,
from one day to the next.

I discovered Danusha Laméris via her poem “Small Kindnesses,” included in the collection How to Love the World. This poem came to me via social media, I think; I am so grateful to the Poetry Foundation for holding and sharing so many wonderful poems.

April is National Poetry Month, and I will be sharing poetry here on Fridays this month, as I do every year. 

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Darkest Before Dawn

Three days into the new year,
and despite the lack of adequate light,
our white phalaenopsis orchid
has eased open a third delicate bloom.
Perhaps coaxed by the warmth
of the woodstove a few feet away,
the orchid thrives in its tiny pot
shaped like the shell of a nautilus,
sending out new stems and glossy leaves,
its aerial roots—green at the tips—
reaching upward like tentacles
to sip the morning air. These blooms
stir something too long asleep in me,
proving with stillness and slow growth
what I haven’t wanted to believe
these past few months—that hope
and grace still reign in certain sectors
of the living world, that there are laws
which can never be overturned
by hateful words or the wishes
of power-hungry men. Be patient,
this orchid seems to say, and reveal
your deepest self even in the middle
of winter, even in the darkness
before the coming dawn.

I found this poem last winter in How to Love the World, a lovely, hopeful anthology edited by Crews. I have been thinking of it again in these cold January days: sometimes keen and blue and bright, sometimes grey and damp and dark.

While I am not growing orchids, my last paperwhite bulb – which sat on the kitchen windowsill for over a week with no signs of growth at all – has started to uncurl its green stem, perhaps in response to the blinding winter sunshine. I am taking it as a sign of hope, and thought it was apt to share this poem with you.

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How lightly we learn to hold hope,
as if it were an animal that could turn around
and bite your hand. And still we carry it
the way a mother would, carefully,
from one day to the next.

–from “Insha’Allah” by Danusha Laméris

I started 2021 with hope as my one little word. I thought, frankly, that it might be tempting fate to choose hope as my word in the middle of a pandemic, when I was unemployed and lonely and terrified of what the next months might bring. Six days into 2021, a group of white supremacists stormed the U.S. Capitol, and of course that was not nearly the end of the terrors and losses the year brought.

Hope, as we all know, is gritty and often surprising. It shows up where it was not expected, and it gleams out, sometimes, on the really hard days. It is, as Emily D. reminds us, “the thing with feathers,” and it is also often a choice. I had to choose hope many times in 2021 instead of falling into despair – instead of looking at the headlines and the case counts and my own empty apartment and sinking back into a fog of hopelessness. I did not always manage it; there were a lot of hard and lonely days. But having hope there at my elbow, nudging me, sometimes helped.

My words for each year may start out as abstract concepts, but as the days go on they become tangible, daily practices, embodied through actions and sometimes through other people. For me, hope this year often looked like the small daily stuff: washing dishes, going for a run, sending out yet another job application. It looked like walks with friends, fresh flowers, washing my face at night, making tentative travel plans (some of which I got to keep). It looked like choosing to believe good things would happen, but – critically – trying to let go of my notions of how they might happen.

I kept thinking this year of a line from Henri Nouwen, from that Advent book I love: “I have found it very important in my own life to let go of my wishes and start hoping.” Although it believes in a glad outcome, hope – Nouwen seems to be saying – is often open-ended.

Hope in hard times is, paradoxically, difficult and necessary; I am thus not done with hope, and I don’t suppose I will ever be. I am grateful for its presence in my life this past year, and I hope (as it were) to remain open to whatever it has to teach me.

Did you follow a word in 2021? If so, what did it teach you?

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Last Monday, I threw on my green coat over my pajamas and went out for a walk instead of my usual morning run. My running coach and many other wise people remind me regularly that rest days are important, and I also know I always feel better when I move.

I walked down the hill under grey misty skies, past the community garden with tidy beds mostly dug up for winter. There are a few roses, ragged and papery but still bright red, clinging to a bush up against the fence. I love them in all seasons, but this year I am particularly taken by the fact that they’re hanging on in the face of frosts and bitter winds.

Although I’d forgotten my headphones, I found The Civil Wars’ version of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and played it on repeat as I walked through the park. Every year there’s at least one morning in December when I listen to it over and over again, the haunting harmonies melding perfectly with the lyrics and their longing: O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here. O come, Thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things far and nigh. We used to start every Advent service at my former church with that hymn, the a cappella notes soaring up into the high-ceilinged sanctuary, setting the tone for the time of year when we watch for the light as the world grows dark.

I am where I often find myself in mid-December: slowly tiptoeing into the season, putting up my two Christmas trees (one tiny, one medium-size) but waiting a few days to add ornaments to the branches. I am listening to quiet Christmas music (Kate Rusby, Nichole Nordeman, Sarah MacLachlan) and some brighter melodies (She & Him, Broadway carol renditions on Spotify). I am rehearsing twice a week in a dusty church sanctuary with a group of friends for a Christmas carol performance, and singing those pieces – some familiar, some new – to myself as I wash dishes or walk to work. This year, we are singing the Magnificat (my idea), and those familiar lines weave in and over and around these days that feel both twinkly and edged with deep dark.

Here we are, I say every year in mid-December, mid-Advent: aching and tired and desperate for hope, working hard to make magic and grab hold of joy and balance our daily lives with the special moments of the season. Here we are, still mid-pandemic, still treading carefully but yearning to celebrate, still waiting for Emmanuel to come. Here we are, praying God will be with us, stubbornly nurturing that flame of hope amid wars and rumors of wars, disease and pain. Here we are: weary, anxious, but alive. I want to stay awake, alert to those flickers of hope, attuned to those whispers of joy.

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We’ve turned the corner into mid-November, flipping the big switch of Daylight Savings and shifting from bright green trees to russet leaves and early, gold-streaked sunsets. Back-to-school excitement (and trepidation) is a thing of the past, and even my trip to Texas last month feels like a long time ago. The accordion of time continues to contract and expand in strange ways in these still-pandemic months. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’ve lived one year, or five, or a strange in-between number, since March 2020. 

Here in Massachusetts, we are cautiously back to some kind of normal: back in the office, back to school, back to (some) indoor collective experiences. We are still wearing masks, keeping an eye on the COVID numbers, pulling out our vaccination cards to go to concerts or the theater. I know it isn’t the same everywhere; one of the defining features of this pandemic, for me, has been the wide range of experiences based on region, age and political affiliation. Sometimes I wonder if we are – if I am – being paranoid. But then I think about the losses of the past 20 months, all those lives memorialized this summer by tiny white flags near the Washington Monument. I think about the people I know who have lost loved ones. I think about the folks I love who have underlying health issues. And I think: maybe being cautious isn’t so bad.

I’ve thought often this year about an exchange between General Leia Organa and Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo in one of the newer Star Wars films. It’s the part in every Star Wars movie that always makes me cry: the moment when several of the characters acknowledge the odds they’re up against, and decide to go in anyway. This Leia is a different Leia than the fresh-faced princess with the cinnamon buns we met in A New Hope: she’s older, wearier, more familiar with the costs of constantly fighting. “So many losses,” she says quietly to her tall, purple-haired friend. “I can’t take any more.”

“Sure you can,” Holdo responds instantly. “You taught me how.”

Holdo’s comment first struck me as flippant when I saw it in the theater; I wondered if she was even listening to Leia. But it has stayed with me – this moment of vulnerability between two women who are longtime friends – through my divorce, a move, job changes, and the pandemic we’re all still living in. Sometimes I think it’s a testament to human resilience: we are all capable of withstanding more than we think. (Hasn’t the pandemic taught us that, if nothing else?) Sometimes I think it’s an important way for Holdo to remind Leia of her own courage. Some days I agree with Leia; my heart and soul have had enough.

Most of the time, I recognize it’s not that simple, not always. We may think – or even believe – we can’t take any more, in the moment. But we have to keep going. And we rely on our people to remind us that we can. 

The days are so bright right now, the low autumn sun sparkling on the harbor and flooding through the still-vivid leaves, making shifting patterns of orange and crimson and gold. And the nights are so dark – after those fiery sunsets at 4:45 p.m., the hours stretch on and on in pitch blackness, as I know they will for months. 

Somehow, I have to learn to hold the extremes – the dark and the bright, the losses and the joys. I have to learn to embrace it all, to lean into the loneliness as well as the deep connection. I am trying (always, it seems, I am trying) to accept all of it, to let it be what it will be and face whatever comes with courage and hope.

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computer tulips hpac

It’s the question at the heart of every application process: what if I get rejected?

What if I do all this work on a cover letter and my resume, and the HR person or hiring manager tosses aside my carefully polished materials? What if they pass me over without a second thought, or – almost worse – what if they take the time to interview me, and then decide I’m not who they are looking for?

It happens, of course – often multiple times in every job hunt. It happens in our lives, too: not getting picked for the team, getting dumped or brushed off by a potential partner, drifting apart from or being excluded by our friends. It’s easy for others, especially those we love, to say “it’s not about you” when a person or organization rejects you, and most of the time there’s some truth to that. But no matter the type of rejection, it still stings – even if you know there were other factors at work.

Real talk: some days the fear of rejection is enough to make me want to slam my laptop closed and just stop putting myself out there for employers to dismiss. Some days the form rejections from application portals slide off my back (this is rare; I’m a sponge, not a duck), but more often, they have a bite. And it’s always disappointing when you’ve made a connection with a real person or group of people and you get an email or a phone call beginning with, “I’m sorry…”

I’ve had to work hard (and am still working) to really believe – and remember – that while rejection stinks, getting turned down for a job doesn’t mean I am not qualified or experienced. It especially doesn’t reflect on my worth as a person (more on that in a future post). It’s also not the end of the world, as my mother would say, and it definitely is a signal that I need to keep going. Sometimes, repeated rejections or disappointments have even nudged me to consider new possibilities: as a girlfriend noted last week, rejection can be redirection. (Case in point: my string of layoffs and struggles working in higher ed communications are part of what prompted me to cast my job-search net wider this time around.)

Some days, though, as my friend Stephanie noted recently, rejection just sucks and there’s no silver lining. I think it’s important to name that, too. Rejection may push us in new directions, make us stronger or simply remind us that we can get through hard things. But sometimes it’s just that: hard.

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darwins scone stripe journal coffee shop table

One of the most exciting things about the job hunt is also one of the hardest: imagining a new, possible life both before and during the application process.

A certain amount of this is necessary, of course. Before I apply – before I invest the time into combing an organization’s website and writing a cover letter – it makes sense to consider whether the job is a good fit. Am I qualified? Does it sound interesting? Would the commute (when we go back to office life) be workable? Does the organization seem like a place I would want to work? The answer to all these questions has to be “yes,” or at least “maybe/probably,” before I even open up a new Word doc and start trying to find the name of the hiring manager.

For me, it’s sometimes tougher after I’ve applied – or in that strange limbo period between a first-round interview and whatever happens next. Sometimes I try to picture what a day or a week in that job would look like. I always go on Google Maps to check and double-check the potential commute. If it’s an organization where I know someone, you can bet I ask them what it’s like to work there. But all of this is purely hypothetical at this stage. And it can require a lot of emotional effort.

When Kathleen Kelly has to close her bookstore in You’ve Got Mail (more on this in a future #romcomrewatch post), Birdie invites her and Christina over for tea. “Closing the store is the brave thing to do,” Birdie declares over Earl Grey and scones. “You are daring to imagine that you could have a different life!”

Kathleen is disinclined to believe her, at that moment (and I don’t blame her), but Birdie’s words have come back to me in many contexts over the years. Going to grad school, changing jobs time and again, moving to Boston, getting married, deciding to get divorced, starting a new relationship – in all of these instances, I have dared (sometimes still am daring) to imagine that my life can look different than it did. Sometimes that’s exciting. Sometimes it’s daunting. More often than not, it’s both.

It can be a real bummer to invest time and energy into applying for a job and then imagining how that life might look, only to find out you didn’t get it. (This has, obviously, happened to me more than once.) But I don’t want to stop imagining potential lives, because the alternative is to just apply mindlessly – or settle – for whatever comes my way. And I don’t think that’s the answer. I have to believe (despite the evidence, some days) that a thoughtful, curious search for a new job is better than a robotic one. I want to go toward work that interests me, even delights me, or at least has the potential to do so. And that only happens, I think, with a bit of imagination (and a lot of Internet searching/letting friends know I’m looking/pounding out cover letters).

So, at least for now, I’ll keep daydreaming a bit about possible lives as I keep tweaking cover letters and scouring job boards. Hey, at least daydreaming is fun.

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Notions

Look at the silver lining, they say.
But what if, instead,
I pluck it off
and use that tensile strand to bind
myself to those things I do not 
want to lose sight of.

Families knit together by evening walks,
board games, laughter. 
The filament fixing us to friends
no matter the distance apart.
A braid of gratitude for small kindnesses.
The thin gauge wire of loss.

Let me twist that lining 
around my finger, 
it’s silvery glint a reminder 
of just how quickly life can change. 
I will remember to love more.
I will remember to give more.

I will remember to be still

I will knot the string tightly. 
So it won’t slip away.
So I won’t forget.

I found Paula’s poem in the anthology How to Love the World, and was struck by the idea of silver linings becoming tangible. You can read more of her poetry on her Facebook page.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry here on Fridays this month, as I do every year. 

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Hope has holes
in its pockets.
It leaves little
crumb trails
so that we,
when anxious,
can follow it.
Hope’s secret:
it doesn’t know
the destination–
it knows only
that all roads
begin with one
foot in front
of the other.

–Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

I found this poem in the gorgeous collection How to Love the World, edited by James Crews, which will be my companion for National Poetry Month this year. It’s also on Rosemerry’s blog, where she posts a daily poem.

Hope – however foolish it may seem – is my one little word for 2021, and I am looking for it wherever I can in these spring days.

April is National Poetry Month, and I will be sharing poetry here on Fridays this month, as I do every year. 

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