There is no need to recite the long list of heartache, turmoil and struggle we have lived through these past few years. We know it by heart. Collectively, it seems we are swimming in a tidal pool of grief and loss. Washed out to sea one minute only to be hurled back to shore the next. One monstrous wave after another leaving us sputtering, breathless, and exhausted. New words have been forced into the lexicon of our understanding: global pandemic, armed insurrection, no-knock warrant, zoom, tele-health, supply chain issues, monkey pox. Just when we began to get our feet underneath us, another wave has come barreling our way, knocking us back down.
It has seemed to me cosmically unfair that on top of everything we were experiencing globally and nationally, each of us had our own personal difficulties and anguish with which to contend. Everywhere I looked, people were staggering beneath loads that seemed impossibly heavy. This meant that the places and people to which we would normally turn for comfort, wisdom and hope were often not as available, making our lives feel lonelier and more desolate.
For me, 2021 was the most difficult year of my life. One of our young adult sons made some life-altering and life-threatening choices. It was excruciating to watch him struggle, knowing I was helpless to protect or rescue him. Normally an upbeat person with a positive outlook, this experience flattened me emotionally and physically. I was terrified and confused. My husband was equally as devastated. Hope seemed completely out of reach. Like a bad joke. Like something meant for other people. It felt like the rug had been pulled out from underneath me, and then the floor, and then the earth beneath the floor. For several months, I had the disorienting sensation of falling. Of falling out of my own life with all its perceived certainty and order and into emptiness. I had finally come to the end of my own rope and there was nothing to do but let go and surrender to the fall. I wondered if I would ever stop falling or if I would eventually crash, leaving a pile of smoking wreckage where my life had once been.
While I cannot pinpoint when the freefall stopped, I do remember noticing that I had landed quietly and without incident in a place that felt unfamiliar and empty; still and peaceful. As I rested there in the dark, my eyes began to adjust, and I noticed that I was not alone. There were others nearby. Others who had also fallen into this surrendered, stripped-down territory. They came alongside me, whispering words of encouragement. They made me cups of tea and hugged me until I could breathe again. They took my face in their hands and reminded me to lift up my head and look around. You are ok, they said. No matter what. You are ok. You are here. You are safe.
This place is called Love. It is most often reached through experiences of great suffering or self-emptying love. Once we find ourselves there, we never want to leave. It feels like something true, solid, and sure. It feels like home.
As I have become more accustomed to the geography of this place, I have discovered a new kind of hope. Less about being positive, optimistic, or looking for a particular outcome, this kind of hope is about surrendering my whole self into the heart of God in whom I live and move and have my being. It’s the kind of hope that can find a way when it seems there is no way. The kind of hope that waits and watches in the dark for the light to return.
Nancy Chester McCranie is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the 2022 Moderator of Mission Presbytery. She serves as Director of Volunteer and Bereavement Services for Hospice Austin where she has worked for more than two decades. She is a frequent speaker in the greater Austin area, educating people about end-of-life issues as well as the nuances of the grieving process. Nancy chairs the Clinical Pastoral Education Committee for The Ascension Seton Family of Hospitals; is Parish Associate for the First Presbyterian Church, Elgin, Texas; and is co-host of a podcast about worship and life called Passing the Peace. She and her husband, Sheldon, live on a biodynamic farm and ranch in Bastrop County where they produce the finest tasting blueberries and beef imaginable. In addition to their two young adult sons, they enjoy their three dogs, two cats, a small herd of Irish Dexter cattle, and a friendly donkey named Jennifer.