Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
So writes Emily Dickinson years ago. . . .little did she know that her lyric poem would contain the words I would keep reading throughout this summer of 2011. I have loved her words for the sound of her words, and although I had introduced some of her poetry to my high school English students, I never needed to live the meaning of her words until recently.
Last spring, as my school year was coming to an end, I learned that both my father and my younger sister would be facing some complicated health issues. My father, heart bypass, and my sister, kidney cancer. I reacted very much like I think many of us do when we are faced with the truth of losing the people we love. I believed that this would be okay; I hoped for the future, envisioning future family photographs with all of us crowded at the Thanksgiving table or in front of the tree at Christmas. I denied much and turned my head away from images that may be too hard or too painful. My hope was that if I just shut my eyes, when I opened them, everything was going to be okay.
Then both of them suffered setbacks and complications. My father spent time in the nursing home to rehabilitate and my sister saw her cancer return, more aggressive and prevalent than before. It was a bit harder for me to deny the reality of their illnesses. But still I hoped; still I looked to the future filled with images of my dad and Renee.
As the summer wore on, I was soon expected to be there on a regular basis, and throughout the summer I found myself holding my sister's hand in her own house and walking behind her up the stairs to catch her if she fell. I tied my father's shoes, made him lumpy oatmeal for breakfast, and read the newspaper aloud to him.
I slowly began to realize that I liked these things. I wasn't afraid and wasn't depressed about the daily activities. I was looking forward to the time I was going to get to spend with the people I love, and I was feeling the joy in each of the activities. I held my father's face in my hands when I left him yesterday, telling him so. I left my sister after we had an honest sisterly conversation. . .about me.
So now when I look to Dickinson's poem today, I see that never in the course of the summer did hope ask a thing of me. I discovered that hope changes when our lives change, and that it does perch in my soul. And it doesn't hurt or make me sad every day that those images I had may never come to pass, but I feel the hope alive in each day and hope for the everyday things. I hope that Renee is able to enjoy a Brewer game on TV with her son today, and I hope that my father and mother can just sleep together tonight in that same old double bed they have slept in for 48 years.I know that it is going to be hard. I know that I have no control over what the future will look like for any of us. But I hope that this feathered thing will keep on singing. Today.