Monday, July 28, 2014

The warrior virtue.

I got home from work today and just wanted to cry. It was nothing particularly to do with work and nothing particularly to do with home. I just felt tired from the inside out, and it suddenly caught up with me. Everything I had to do felt too difficult and too awful, and the few things I’m looking forward to over the next little while all seemed so wrapped up in other things that terrify me that it felt/feels impossible to separate the yay from the unyay in order to really enjoy them.

While the physical reality of this hit with a fresh intensity, the vibe wasn’t exactly new. I’ll admit it: a certain sense of cynicism has crept into my soul lately. I didn’t notice it happening. I didn’t intentionally stamp out the flames of optimism. Suddenly I just realised: I’m not such a hopeful person anymore. I’m more skeptical. I’m more doubtful. I have less of a sense of anticipation about the future. And every time I watch the news, I regret it.

 I used to be Pollyanna, but these days I feel more like Daria. Without the funny bits.

 As it turned out, my teaching appointment was cancelled for the afternoon, and I was able to collapse onto my couch instead, shutting my mind to the million other things I’m supposed to be doing this week. I put my iPod on shuffle, and Mumford & Sons’ Thistle and Weeds came on. It’s not my favourite of their songs, so I hadn’t given it as much attention as some of the others that caught at me from the very first listen. Today, though, the words made me stop:

Plant your hope with good seeds / Don't cover yourself with thistle and weeds

I was arrested by this image of hope as a garden, a garden that requires cultivation, energy, pruning, and watering. I thought of how cynicism and snark can spring up like thistles and weeds, and how once the weeds take over a patch, it’s so much harder for the good seeds to grow there.

Then came the chorus:

But I will hold on / I will hold on hope.

Hope is such a small word. A slight word. A simple word. I equated it with Pollyanna before, and sometimes I suspect that is how we think of it: as the sunshiny stuff of children’s stories from last century. But there’s a reason the image of the anchor has come to represent hope: hope is the weight that can keep the soul from being dragged away by the rips and currents that yank it off course. Hope strains under its own strength. Hope pulls, hope catches, hope preserves, and hope keeps alive.

Hope saves us from shipwreck. Hope is fierce. It has guts, and it has muscles. Hope is the stuff of warriors.

Last week, I got a text from a friend I rarely see or talk to, but who is one of those steadfast, true, and excellent people in my life. She reminded me that the last time we’d caught up was for New Year’s Eve. We danced and sweated our way into 2014 in my tiny Housie living room, and we talked about Woody Guthrie’s New Year’s resolutions from 1943. The one that stood out to her was the call to action, Wake Up And Fight. The one that leapt up and smacked me on the nose was this: Keep the Hoping Machine Running.

I loved it so much that I painted it on the front of my moleskine planner. That way, I’d see it daily all through 2014. But after my friend’s text, I saw those words anew, with a jolt. My hope machine hasn’t been running at full horsepower. In fact, I think I’ve let the fuel tank run low. My little hope machine has been coughing by on mere fumes. Time for some jumper cables, I think.

Considering hope as this thing that can be fed or starved, fuelled or run dry, may seem oddly contradictory. After all, we can’t just magic our way into joy or click our red-shoed heels and find ourselves there. So is hope fake?

I can’t believe that it is. Jesus notched its importance up there right alongside faith and love. And through humanity’s long history of messes and flaws, it has been the thing telling people to walk on. So it makes sense that sometimes we have to tell our hope itself to hope on, too. The Psalmist literally told his soul to keep hoping. And Dory did the same thing when she sang that magical phrase, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.”

If hope is a garden, we must weed it. If hope is an anchor, we must cling to it. If hope is a machine, we must keep it running. Just keep swimming.


  1. Melody (the one who ice skates in the U.S.) :)July 29, 2014 at 7:24 AM

    I love you and your writing, Danielle! <3

  2. I find that there is a difference between choosing hope and feeling optimistic. It's like choosing bravery while feeling fear: hope is hope because you choose - in times when you do not feel that everything is going ok - to focus on the journey and the positive things (no matter how small) and trust that this will all work out if you keep on.

    In my life, there are times of deep depression (I struggle with a couple of chemical imbalances in my brain and I have a chronic, debilitating joint disease), and hope is choosing to make art, to sing, to smile at flowers tucked in sidewalk (pavement?) cracks, to read books in which terrible things happen but the characters end up generally ok (The Hobbit, Anne of Green Gables series, In Grandmother's Attic series, most things by Robin McKinley), to make myself little treats (roasted chipotle chickpeas, anyone?), to carefully go outside in the sunshine, to keep coffee dates with people in whom my soul delight, to find a freezing cold pebbly stream and walk barefoot in it.

    And, as a wise professor once told me, to see what's there. Grad students have a tendency to want to pick everything apart and find faults; this prof encouraged us to look for strengths and things we could learn from, instead. In most aspects of my life I want to find the cracks and problems so I can make them better, fix them. But sometimes the most hopeful thing I can do is practice seeing what's there. Being gracious with myself and the world around me.

    All this to say that I hear you, and this resonates deeply with me. Thanks.

  3. Just thought I'd share one of my very favourite passages with you. :)

    "Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
    Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
    They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
    I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.” "

    (Lamentations 3:21-24)

  4. THANK you for this, Danielle! I think you hit on something important.

    Also, can you miss someone you've never actually met? Because I miss the tea-time chat we've yet to have!

  5. I so hear you on this! It's so easy to let hope fade out of life and doubt creep in. And yet, hope is such an anchor. It's so good to be reminded to stay strong in that. Thanks for sharing!
    Much love x

  6. Words cannot tell how much I love this piece!! I want to print it out and keep it with me forever. You put your finger on things that I have a trouble articulating. Love love love it!!! I also have found that my attitude has greatly shifted in the last year or so to something more cynical also so I understand that also.
    You just keep swimming too girl xxxxx

    And all the previous commenters, you are all super amazing too. Asea, I hope you get to see this because your comment was just gorgeous: "I find that there is a difference between choosing hope and feeling optimistic. It's like choosing bravery while feeling fear: hope is hope because you choose - in times when you do not feel that everything is going ok - to focus on the journey and the positive things (no matter how small) and trust that this will all work out if you keep on." Amazing words. I love the internet, that it brings such wise words along the world wide web!

  7. Your writing inspires me!! Thank you!! xx

  8. Love this, Danielle. Life without hope is so grey and lacklustre. I've been in that place, and you're right: that really is the time to cling to hope. You choose it, as Asea said, and you don't let go, no matter what circumstances tell you.

    I wrote a blog post some months back on deserts, and I mentioned that rain always comes. There has been, nor will be, a drought where rain never comes. The drought will always be broken. That is something that has gotten me through many a dry spell where the hope tank was running on empty. Rain will come. Hope will return in full swing if we only choose never to let go of it.

    Keep looking up and keep shining, beautiful. xo

  9. Well, now I'm crying. Thanks for the reminder to fight, that hope is something God WANTS us to have, not some foolishness or torture instrument while we wait and wait and wait. *hugs*

  10. Aw my sweet nugget of wisdom I'm giving you a big hug when I see you next xxxx


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