There’s an old saying, You can’t direct the wind, but you can adjust your sails. It’s always struck me as stupid…yeah, yeah, silver lining, glass half-full. But like most old sayings, you find yourself quoting it when something terrible happens.
If you’ve read the other essays posted here by this amazing group of authors I still can't believe I get to work with, you’ll have noticed a trend… “worst” is a relative – and therefore, subjective – term. No matter how bad things are, they CAN (and often do) get even worse.
But we’re still here.
That’s a significant statement – especially coming from me, because I’m not a silver lining, glass half-full person. I tend to wallow and mope when I’m confronted by worse stuff. That statement is full of something I usually think I’ve lost whenever something bad happens – and that’s hope.
Hope, I’ve discovered, is not simply this amorphous concept people order you not to lose when you’re upset. No, it’s a driving force, maybe even a magical power (I’m entirely serious!) that most of us don’t – can’t -- fully appreciate until we’re forced to face its absence.
Two years ago, my niece got sick. She had a cold with a fever. Nothing to be concerned about – just the same sort of malady that strikes millions each day. Except she wasn’t recovering as fast. Now there’s concern. One day, when she discovered a lump on her neck near her collarbone, concern shot straight into red-line levels of worry.
My sister is divorced and lives out of state. She called me, too hysterical to be understood, from the shoulder of the road she was driving when the pediatrician called with The Worst Possible News.
Cancer. Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
My niece had just turned thirteen years old.
Have you ever seen someone you love die? It’s the most horribly human thing we must face… the end of a life we love. I watched my mother die of complications from her breast cancer treatment. It’s miserable knowing that your money, your IQ, your education, your physical strength, your achievements – NONE of these things can stop that inevitable progression to the end. All you can do is love anyway.
Mom had passed only three years earlier. So her ordeal was still way too fresh in our minds when Jennifer was diagnosed. When a thirteen-year-old child asks, “Am I going to die?” – yeah, that's a perfect example of The Worst Thing That Can Happen.
Except it isn’t. Because you know, Murphy’s Law dictates more things will go wrong. For my sister, it meant dealing with her despicable ex-husband who said, “This is your fault.” As if cancer is something you get from using the wrong brand of soap or something. It meant fighting with a bank that wanted to start foreclosure proceedings on her house because that same despicable ex-husband would not cough up a single extra dime after my sister took a leave of absence from her job to ferry their daughter to and from her chemotherapy and radiation appointments. It meant fighting with herself after panic attacks all but prevented her from driving beyond that road where they’d first heard the diagnosis.
You hate it, you hate every single circumstance that led to this, but you fight. You find the strength to keep a thirteen-year-old from freaking out even when you’re so tired, you’re slurring your words. You fight through red tape and vengeful ex-husbands and a dozen other things that might have made you stumble before but now don’t even signify as obstacles. This is where hope lives… inside the hearts of those facing A Worst Thing That Could Happen that is simply too horrible to imagine.
My niece spent a year fighting through chemotherapy’s side effects and then radiation’s. She’s endured broken friendships and the loss of the Daddy will do anything for me belief she once held. But she’s here. She’s healthy and she’ll be fifteen in a few days.
There's a lot wrong with our country, with our society. But I don't say I've "lost hope" anymore. I've learned that hope is something you have to make. It takes action. Dedication and commitment.
It takes work.
I learned these lessons from a little girl and her mom.