Times have been tough lately for a number of my friends. There have been hospitalizations for ailments that remain undiagnosed even after a lengthy stay and discharge, falling off the wagons of weight loss, illegal drug dependency and cigarette smoking, and breast cancer and melanomas. How do any of us remain sane, good to our partners and consistent about showing up at work and school in the face of these challenges?
A lovely, lovable young woman is stepping through the mental health system right now, internalizing all the pain she sees around her while trying to emerge from the psychotropic drugs that numb her ability to experience the joy of sunshine, fragrant flowers and beautiful music. She's hanging on to a string of Tibetan prayer flags, fragile and ephemeral, like the thin paper they're made of, and a book of quotes about peaceful living.
I send her prayers, continuously in each waking moment and in all the sleeping ones, too. Prayers, effusive as my love for her. Prayers, elusive as the peace I wish for her. We are connected by thoughts that flash in and out of observation, existing in a quantum world, unseeable by the naked eye. What sustains her is her knowledge that my love for her is constant, unwavering even when unseen, traversing distances that span half a continent and silences that span weeks.
Today I read an article and watched a video of another young woman, Sarah Kruzan, now 29, who was seduced from a life of inner city poverty into a life of street prostitution at age 13 and killed her oppressor, her pimp, at age 16. She was tried, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole plus four years. Watching her gentle demeanor and listening to her thoughtful, remorseful words, I could not help but wonder, what sustains Sarah, what gives Sarah the hope to keep on living?
Yesterday Herb and I had a flare up, an argument of sorts that wasn't really an argument. This happens rarely in our relationship, which is generally full of accommodation and adaptability. We had reached the end of our figurative ropes in dealing with the stuff of our lives: his kidney disease, the endless fixing up of a house that refuses to be fixed up completely, my hyperactive schedule, his living across a time zone and multiple states, etc., etc., etc. What sustains us?
What sustains anyone? I have some guesses about this. I think we must have hope that there are possibilities in the future that will be different than what exists in the present, and I think that we must have love that we believe is constant, unwavering and dependable.
We suffer many losses in the progression of our lives - the loss of innocence, possessions, love, loved ones, pride, ambition . . . but the greatest loss is the loss of hope. Without hope that something different than what is, awaits us around the corner of our tomorrows, what is left to motivate us to go on?
For those of us who believe in Christ Jesus, we theologize that our hope is in the Lord, a gift of hope that is not of our own imagining or making. We are linked to something bigger than ourselves, more than just a promised eternity, to something that overtakes and overwhelms whatever dreams or fantasies that we can imagine or think of.
For nonbelievers and for each other, I think that we have a responsibility as inextricably interdependent human beings not to take away anyone's hope even if we cannot proactively offer hope. As an Episcopalian, I pray in church with the rest of the congregation, "Let not the hope of the poor be taken away." The poor refers to the poor in spirit as well as the poor in economic terms. This is a prayer that speaks volumes to my heart. It hurts my heart to know there are Sarah Kruzan's in the world whose hope has been taken away by our criminal justice system.
The ideal of a constant, unwavering, dependable love reminds me of a key tenet of what I have come to call my "theology of the outsider," which is "always showing up." It fits into the words from the film, "Galaxy Quest," spoken by the aliens, "Never give up, never give in."
I am reminded of a news story I read probably four decades ago about an Israeli mother who, instead of dashing off the burning bus after a bomb exploded, turned around and rushed into the back of the bus to embrace her young children who were unable to escape. That, to me, is a prime example of a constant, unwavering, dependable love. "You can count on me to the end of your days." That is something that could sustain any of us.