I wanted to find hope again. I really, REALLY longed for it.
I wanted to have some hint of what it will be like when I no longer feel buried under the grief of Mom’s death and the added trauma of Marcel’s heart attack and the accompanying financial stress, extra workload on my shoulders, etc., etc.
I know that “this too shall pass”. It’s what I cling to every time I find myself spiralling down into the hard places in life. “I’ve been through this before. I know that I can survive. It will get better.”
When I found the necklace in Ten Thousand Villages, I knew that I’d found my symbol of hope. It’s a tree of life, crafted by artisans in Cambodia out of the shell casings of bombs that litter the countryside. Perfect. Creating something beautiful out of destruction, loss, and grief. Making the land safe again by cleaning up the unexploded land mines and making them into jewellery. Hope out of hardship. Sounds pretty close to what I specialize in.
“…and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4)
I texted Marcel a photo of the necklace. “Don’t you want to buy me something for Valentine’s Day?” I asked. Sure enough, he did. He was in the store later that day and the necklace was mine. I was delighted.
Not only was it a little bit of hope to wrap around my weary neck, it felt like a new trademark for the work I do with clients. “You too can find beauty in the grief and destruction of your lives. You can rise out of the brokenness and be courageous, resilient, and authentic. You can find deeper connection and more honest stories when you clean up the land mines and turn them into necklaces.”
And then, two days later, the necklace was gone. I stood in the bookstore bathroom, looking down at the chain on the floor. There was no tree of hope attached anymore. Somehow, somewhere, it had slipped off my neck.
I searched everywhere, but it was nowhere to be found.
Instead of holding my head up high and telling myself it was “just a necklace,” I took a nosedive into self-pity and hopelessness. “What the hell, universe? Do you hate me? Do you really want to take away the one thing that was giving me a bit of hope in all of this hardship?”
It was on my dad’s birthday that I lost my necklace. He would have been 79. Right there in that bookstore washroom (where I returned after retracing my steps throughout the store and into the parking lot), I sat and wept for all of the losses and grief stories in my life. The necklace was just the symbol (and the proverbial straw that broke this camel’s back) of everything else that has been lost in the last dozen years – my dad, my mom, my son, nearly my husband (twice)… and so many more, smaller losses. I wept and wept and let myself feel the weight of all of that grief.
And then the next morning, on my way to work, I had a car accident. Yes, really.
It was a minor car accident and nobody was hurt and there is only very minor damage to my car, but it felt like my whole world had fallen apart.
I sat in my office and cried some more. And raged at God. And cried some more. And raged. And cried. And then I got up, and moved my body a little, said a little prayer of gratitude that I hadn’t been hurt… And then… somehow… I carried on. I finished preparing for the workshop I had to deliver yesterday and then went out to the rural town where I was delivering it. I sat in circle with the women in the leadership program I’m co-hosting, and I let the conversation and the compassion in the room offer me a little bit of healing.
When I got home late last night, Marcel met me at the door holding a tiny silk package. Inside was another tree of hope necklace. He’d gone back the the store, told them about the clasp that had come undone, and they replaced it.
And now I’m wearing hope around my weary neck again – a neck made newly stiff from a slight case of whiplash, but a neck that is resilient and strong and will continue to hold my head up high when it needs to, and let it fall to my hands in tears when that’s what needs to happen.
I don’t have a neat little bow to tie this post up with. Life hasn’t become magically easy, and I still feel a little shaky and weepy, but this morning I am reminded that the real hope comes not from anything I can buy or wear. The real hope comes from the relationships that support me – my husband who cares enough to replace the necklace (and so much more), strangers at the store who were compassionate enough to believe him, the women in the circle who let me be authentic in their presence, my co-worker who let me be a little more broken apart than usual yesterday, the woman in the accident who thanked me for my courage in standing up to the man who caused the accident but refused to take personal responsibility, my friends who sent kind messages… and God, the source of my strength, who doesn’t promise ease, but promises courage if I dare to trust.
If another tragedy happens tomorrow, I might fall apart again, I might rage and scream and wallow in self-pity, but then I will get up off the floor and continue to make swords into plowshares. Because hope is still worth striving for. And love is still better than war. And light is still better than darkness.
And the tree of life grows best in the compost of the fallen trees of years past.