In The Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne tells us that “hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
When I think of hope, I think of faith. And when I think of faith, I think of hope. For me, faith and hope exist in unison, offering inspiration to forge ahead in the face of tragedy, setbacks, and self-doubt. Faith takes many forms. It can come from religion, spirituality, or from a conviction in oneself. Likewise, hope isn’t so neatly packaged. Hope might stem from a belief in a greater power guiding one’s life or from an internal confidence that the future will eclipse the present.
Regardless of the name assigned or the beliefs associated, faith and hope are good things. The short story that follows, “From Darkness to Light”, is an excerpt from To Dad: From Kelly about the time I discovered hope in a nursing home on Christmas Eve.
“What Corrigan wanted was a fully believable God, one you could find in the grime of the everyday. The comfort he got from the hard, cold truth–the filth, the war, the poverty—was that life could be capable of small beauties. He wasn’t interested in the glorious tales of the afterlife or the notions of a honey-soaked heaven. To him that was a dressing room for hell. Rather he consoled himself with the fact that, in the real world, when he looked closely into the darkness he might find the presence of a light, damaged and bruised, but a little light all the same.”
Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin
I lost touch with God slowly, over many years, and not from anger or disillusionment, but because I became agnostic about a spiritual presence I no longer felt. God had grown distant, absent from my daily life. The perfect vision of heaven preached to me in church seemed forged, like a neatly packaged version of hope sold for large profits in a six-box set. God and I walked different paths because I needed more proof of His or Her existence.
On Christmas Eve 2010, I crammed alongside several members of my family into a tiny nursing home room to visit my mom’s father as he recovered from open-heart surgery. Eighty-four years old and still clawing at life, my grandpa lay in his bed weakened and barely able to smile. We gathered there to wish him a Merry Christmas, except nothing about our situation felt cheerful. That my grandfather survived his quadruple bypass surgery a few weeks prior to the holidays was a miracle our heavy hearts were still processing.
My dad had passed away unexpectedly barely more than one month earlier (two weeks before my grandfather’s surgery) and my mom, sister, and I reeled, damaged and bruised, by his death. I sat on a metal folding chair in the corner of Grandpa’s room with my head down and eyes locked on the floor. My mom, her allergic lungs suffering under siege from the fumes spewing off the nursing home’s newly installed gray carpet, wandered the halls seeking a fresh air escape from her prison cell of challenged breaths. Merry Christmas, Kelly, I thought as I lifted my head and scanned the collection of moping faces scattered among my grandpa’s bowling trophies and University of Michigan football memorabilia.
I wanted to know where I could possibly find any hope in this scene.
A few minutes later, after my mom had returned to the room, we began our farewells. Then, from somewhere in the hallway, I heard the off-key sounds of a Christmas Carol sneaking towards us. Outside our room, I saw members of a local church choir treating the patients of the nursing home to songs on Christmas Eve. A smile overtook my frown. The mood lifted and, for me at least, calm entered my heart for the first time since my father died. Despite all the tears I cried over losing my dad, I had survived the first month without him.
The choir moved past us and I watched a new collection of pleased faces greet their hymns from the room across from Grandpa. In an imperfect situation, these strangers brought me a perfect moment. For that instant, I realized being in the congested nursing home room surrounded by family was the only place in the world I wanted to be.
When I fortuitously read Colum McCann’s description of Corrigan in Let the Great World Spin a few days later, it occurred to me that I discovered my God in the midst of sadness and suffering while sitting in an odorous nursing home on Christmas Eve. Until that point, my recent life felt too removed from religion to hear the answers I sought from the cryptic God that I peppered with questions of morality while sipping coffee on Saturday mornings. Like Corrigan, I needed a God willing to roll up His or Her sleeves and find a place in the grit and sadness churning my insides. I didn’t need God’s promise that one day I would greet my father in a majestic, perfect reunion in heaven. Instead, I needed God to help me remember how to smile through the day-to-day.
On that tearful Christmas Eve, a church choir filled with people I might never see again, sang peace into my battered heart. More importantly, though, they flashed a spark of light into the darkness surrounding me. They brought me hope. And, as a result, they brought me closer to the God I needed to find.
Have you ever found hope in the darkest of times? Do you have a faith in something (or someone) that urges you towards a brighter future? If so, please share in the comments or by contacting me.