Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without words, and never stops at all.” (Emily Dickinson)
I am one of three girls in my family, the middle one. Every morning during Lent and Advent and all days of obligation, we three sisters walked with Mother the 3 blocks from our house to Mass at St. George the Dragonslayer Catholic Church. Sundays, we took the car.
We usually entered the church and left 1-2-3 with our Mother. Father Antony, the parish priest, stood at the church exit and would usually say to us: “There are my three graces-Faith, Hope, and Love. But the greatest of these is Love.” To emphasize the “love” part, he would then pat Mary Ann on the head; she was the baby in our family, a diminuative girl until 7th grade when she cast shadows on her older sisters.
“Mary Ann is Love?” I asked our priest once when I was about 8. “Which one am I?” (“Hope, of course,” he replied.) “Why can’t I be Love…or Faith? Why do I have to be Hope?” (“You are the middle daughter. You get to be Hope. It’s a very important grace.”)
Once again, consigned by birth to a less than role in life. Bad enough to ALWAYS get my older sister’s hand-me-downs when my little sister would get new things ALL THE TIME. It didn’t matter that Mother was a good tailor and virtually re-made the garments or that I was so hard on my clothes that there was little left for Mary Ann. I was in 5th grade before Mother didn’t have to rescue me with a change of clothes because I’d spilled paint on my dress or torn out the hem or gotten the skirt ripped from the bodice.
I grumbled to Mother that I didn’t want to be Hope. (“What are you talking about, Margaret?” she looked confused.) Rolling my eyes, I reminded her about Father Antony’s three graces. (“Oh, well…Hope is important, too. Will you set the table?”)
Yeah. Hope is important, too. I tried to talk Mary Ann into trading graces with me, but even at 5, she figured she was getting a bad deal. I knew better than to try a trade with my older sister. Older sisters are wily; she’d have probably talked me out of my lousy grace and then I wouldn’t even have Hope.
Over the years, I thought about my alter ego, Hope. It wasn’t fair. Faith was always mentioned in the Bible and stupid Love is “the Greatest.” I have no doubt that my alcoholic thinking attributed to that dis-satisfaction with a silly label. I am of the belief that I was born an alcoholic; it took 20 years for others to notice; and 20 more before I had to concede there might be something to what they were saying. Part of my disease obsesses over what everyone else has or does or is. I will always get the short straw if I am doing the assessment.
It wasn’t until I became truly, absolutely hopeless that I was able to seek help for my alcoholism. I had hoped and prayed for the last 5 years of my drinking that “this night will be different” and that I would finally be able to drink like everybody else. The first thing I noticed after an AA meeting was that I had a little slice of hope. Each day, each step I worked, I got bigger slices of hope. My mantra had changed from “It’s not that bad” to “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” It changed again as hope started seeping into my soul.
Hope has gained traction in my life over the past 13 years of living sober. That does not mean that life hasn’t taken some hopeless turns. My life has been up-ended and rolled into a chasm of despair. I do not blithely say that “tomorrow’s a better day.” Losing my son, Jack, system erased every thought I ever had about the natural order of things or what I thought should happen in life. So many hopes were born with his birth and they vaporized with his death.
It was that microscopic seed of hope that kept me breathing even when sucking air was excruciating. Hope kept my feet stumbling forward. Hope raised my arms in a plea to the universe to reverse time, to make this reality stop. Hope wrapped me up in the consolation that life goes on whether I like or not. Hope has bridged time, given me the days I need to give life, love, and faith a chance again.
It was Hope, then. It’s Hope, now. Stupid, little Hope.