Have Hope

This week I told my students news I’ve been sitting on for a little while: next year, I’m not returning to teach because I’m going to graduate school in Vancouver, a city in some other country facing out over some other ocean. Some of them were calm when I told them, and some were less-so. Two fell out of their chairs. A few announced they could no longer do the assigned work for the day because of their great grief. I laughed. But my hands shook through the first two classes I had to tell. I am sad. I’m as sure that this is the right decision as I’m sure of my own right hand, but nothing can quite assuage the child-like sorrow I feel over leaving people and places I love.

However, my moving to another place and another life is the least of these things.

My sister told me this afternoon that everything feels heavy right now. This season has been one in which I’ve learned the weight of the world, and this week that weight has been not only burdensome but loud. All the pain in my peripheral vision, the groanings of the created beings around me, are making themselves known in cacophony.

I have been thinking of the Yeats poem I love which says: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned.” I grieve for the things I see that are lost, many beyond repair. He’s right: the things on which we rely will be shattered, and we can’t buy back past innocence for ourselves or for those we love.

I love that poem because it is completely true, but I also love it because it is completely short-sighted. I’m not disputing the obvious brilliance of W.B. Yeats, but human bitterness often assures that our long-distance vision is effectively nil. Things lost may be beyond repair, but they are not beyond redemption and rebirth. The things we rely on will eventually crumble beneath us, so that we may land at last on the Rock, the only one who can, in fact, buy back not only our innocence, but ourselves entire, and bring us into eternity. Yeats tells the truth, but only the first page of it.

One of my fellow teachers, a kind, kind man who was my English teacher himself back in the day, told me yesterday that I needed to write a book, because I had something to say. I hesitantly agreed, and perhaps what I have to say begins with this: I am hopeful.

Once I would have told you that I am hopeful because my students are sweet and bright and growing up into good people. I would have told you that I am hopeful because my family and my friends, they love me and make me happy. I would have told you that I am hopeful because God had given me far more comforts and blessings than I deserve. I would have told you that I am hopeful because spring comes every year.

But now, though my fears are bigger, because my fears are bigger, so are my hopes. They are stronger than they once were. Now I am hopeful because no matter where my students end up, they have a God who loves them each like the hundredth sheep. Now I am hopeful because that same faithful God loves me and has given me others to pass that love on to, in sinful fits and starts. Now I am hopeful because that love is so real that God saw fit to manifest it in his own bleeding, gasping Son on a cross. Now I am hopeful because I serve a God who dreamed up spring, who has pronounced that life can spring forth from the deadest death, that Yeats’ “blood-dimmed tide” will be followed by the clearest dawn.

Spring Comes, but Slow

Spring is here fast and well. Everything is budding and blooming. There are two trees on campus, one on the far side of Hoyt and one in J. Howard’s garden, that smell particularly like heaven. The magnolia with droopy pink blossoms outside our window is the most beautiful thing, though. We’ve had our window open and screens out for a week now—Liesel is in raptures. (While I was trying to take a nap today, confused bumblebees kept crashing into the glass and waking me up.) The jar of daffodils on my desk is regularly (and covertly) replenished. I do not own enough shorts or dresses or tank tops or sandals.  And the leaves! They are coming fast and lively, born tip-first out of knobbly twigs. As for my yearly measure, I can say with confidence that they will be here by my birthday. This is not a Pennsylvania March. This is not a North Carolina March. This is a March like nowhere on earth. It is the March I need.

There have been good days lately. Last night I went to the midnight showing of the Hunger Games (more for the company than for the show) and had a worthwhile, silly time. I’ve more than once played with Emily’s boys in the backyard. I interviewed my dear Grandpa for my Mod Civ paper.  I presented my poems for my Dorothy L. Sayers Class outside in the heat, and I’m adding a classics minor of sorts. There have been good days.

There are still sometimes bad days, though. Today has been one of them a bit. I came out to take a nap on the grass and woke up in a foul and frightened mood. I didn’t like the sun, I didn’t like the happy people enjoying it, I didn’t like the towel I was lying on. I went in and finally ended up in my friends Kelsey and Hannah’s room. I put my head down on Hannah’s lap and cried just a tiny bit as she rubbed my back and stroked my hair for nearly half an hour. I am thankful for undeserved and unconditional kindness.

Nature’s spring is coming sudden while mine “comes dropping slow.” But come it does, and come He does.

February

This blog entry started in a funny way. I saw this commercial, and it was weirdly affecting. It made me feel a little less lonely and a little more lonely, and a little more cold and a little more warm…it also made me realize that I’ve begun to massively overthink small bits of media.

In fact, it sent me to Wikipedia to look up the month of February. The root word is Latin: februum. It means purification. Ouch. Other historical names for it include the Finnish helmikuu, meaning “month of the pearl,” and two Old English terms, Kalemonath, after cabbage, and Solmonath, meaning “mud month.”

A couple weeks ago in Am Lit we read a Robert Frost poem called “Two Tramps in Mud Time.” We’ve had a mild winter here, so in some ways, it is already mud time. And though I love to quote Hopkins’ line about “dearest freshness deep down things,” I’m having a hard time seeing the life beneath. There are nights when the mudflats of my heart are interminable, refusing to even end at some horizon.

(I’m floundering safely in imagery. I can’t even express myself without borrowing a whole month to lean upon. Sometimes I just can’t find the words—I was reprimanded in class the other day for describing a love story as “nice.” Oh, how the little writer in me has fallen…)

I hope, I believe, that I simply can’t see the end of it because I’m underneath it right now. This bloated February is my ceiling.

Yeats, who is, perhaps, not the ideal poet to cling to in my distress, says that “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold”–truer word was never spoken, but for this: “The parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water; in the habitation of jackals, where each lay, there shall be grass with reeds and rushes.” (Isaiah 35:7)

There are times when that is easy to believe, and then there are times when just the suggestion, applied to my heart, is incredible. Why is abundance so hard? Isaiah 55:1 calls “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Why is it so difficult to come?

Emily lent me a book the other day called One Thousand Gifts, of which some of you have probably heard. In the very first chapter the author remembers the nation of Israel, wandering in the desert. “For forty long years, God’s people daily eat manna—a substance whose name literally means ‘What is it?’ Hungry, they choose to gather up that which is baffling. They fill on that which has no meaning. More than 14,600 days they take their daily nourishment from that which they don’t comprehend. They find soul filling in the inexplicable. They eat the mystery.”

Yesterday, I went to church twice, and took communion twice. I ate the mystery in the morning, and again in the evening. It was wonderful. I filled my soul with “the inexplicable.” And I simply don’t understand. His death for my life. My life. And what is that, pray tell?

On Wednesday, I got a bit of news which forced me to let go of my last shred of self-assurance, my last sacred imaginative territory. Which was good. I was unexpectedly relieved. It’s gone. I’ve been holding onto it for years, and more suddenly than I’d expected, it’s simply no longer allowed me. Oh, but it’s frightening. I’m left alone with only me. February, my blank mudflat heart, and me, awash in freedom.

So here, a prayer for my muddy heart and for yours, is a devotion by Charles Spurgeon that my 12th grade English teacher once read to us: “Come in, O strong and deep love of Jesus, like the sea at the flood in spring tides, cover all my powers, drown all my sins, wash out all my cares, lift up my earth-bound soul, and float it right up to my Lord’s feet, and there let me lie, a poor broken shell, washed up by His love, having no virtue or value; and only venturing to whisper to Him that if He will put His ear to me, He will hear within my heart faint echoes of the vast waves of His own love which have brought me where it is my delight to lie, even at His feet forever.”