Monday, July 27, 2015

Hope is the thing with feathers

Many of you recognize this quote from EmilyDickinson. As I sat here thinking of the poem that might capture what I wanted to express here, I thought of many others about loss, and sadness, and grief. But ultimately I chose the one that my friend Beth quoted to me last year when she was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. We shared a lot of early morning texts and FB messages this past year as she, with her trademark humor and honesty and giant heart, fought this terrible disease. We laughed together a lot. And shared stories of our almost the same age kids. And talked about Italy and wine and food and books. For a glorious brief time, Beth was cancer free. That hope soared for everyone who loved her. We do that, don't we? Believe in the impossible. Or the hardly possible. Hope is that thing with feathers. 

Most summers I end up in Maine for a week or so. This summer I didn't. By summer, Beth's cancer was back and she was fighting again. Oh that hope! I had it. I believe she had it too. Due to her grueling chemo, our communication was sometimes one way. 

And then the unthinkable. 

Less than a week ago Beth was told the cancer had spread and there was no more treatment. I was about to come to Ireland to teach with my friend Suzanne  Strempek Shea. Suzanne is Beth's friend too, and the three of us had a wonderful visit full of laughter not too long ago. 

Here we are during that visit:

I texted Beth when I received the news and we went back and forth briefly. My plan: to go to Maine to see her as soon as I returned. 

But what are plans? 

Beth died yesterday. 

She has the loveliest husband and son, and good good friends. And a beautiful novel. And she was extraordinary. 

So why, in the throes of grief, do I quote this Emily Dickinson poem?

Because hope is that thing with feathers. If we don't have it, what do we have? 

Today I was on the wild beautiful road along the Atlantic here. There were hurricane force winds. And rain. And in the middle of all that dark weather, the sun broke through. For an instant. And of course I thought of The Beatles Here Comes the Sun. And of hope. Which we hold on to, even when we don't think we will believe in it again. 

'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.