“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 chilliest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.”
Fourteen years after I learned this poem for my freshman English class, I still remember every line. No, this is not because I am a fervent Emily Dickinson fan but because the paper I wrote about this poem turned out to be the first of several papers my teacher proceeded to read to her sophomore class, according to the sophomores cornered me at lunch to tell me. They were not at all impressed.
To get an idea of how awesome it felt to be the English nerd, here’s some more context for how cool I felt: the fall of my freshman year in high school, I was in a new school where a.) everyone knew each other already and b.) no one had ever heard of my hometown and didn’t seem all that interested in finding out more about it--or me. While everyone bonded on fall sports teams, I hobbled around on crutches, my reconstructed ankle still months away from healing. I prayed my ears wouldn’t visibly spew infected crap during school hours, and tried to hide how wheezy I got traipsing through the sweltering hallways one crutch step at a time.
Oh, and obviously I had glasses and braces, but come on, you knew that was coming.
As an adult, I can somewhat appreciate my teacher’s misguided enthusiasm for my ability to write a cohesive essay, but I wish she’d, you know, just written me a margin note or something instead of using my work to coerce her other classes into writing. She did my one-girl crusade for normalcy (invisibility?) no favors.
But enough digression. I’ve been thinking a lot about the word (or really the concept of) hope lately.
Some more context: I am a person of extremes. Now, I’ve evolved a little from my crazy full-course-load-and editing the school newspaper-and interning-and volunteering or spending-weeks-in-the-hospital dual existence in college. I’ve gotten sicker, I’ve matured, I’ve changed my treatment regimen, I’ve re-prioritized things and I’ve learned that occasionally, limits and common sense are good things. There is a middle ground between 18-hour days and the ICU.
But in many ways, I am still all-or-nothing. It is a strength and a weakness. Those who know me in real life know this. I know I certainly experience my emotions like this. When I get good news or learn about possibilities, I get so excited. The tenor in my voice changes, I have more energy, I am consumed. When there is reason to be joyful, I am not someone who can hide it, not in my words, my diction, my gestures, my expressions.
And this is a good thing—I don’t want to become someone who cannot or does not experience things so fully. But it is not without complications: my expectations for things are high, and my disappointment is correspondingly low. I can be hot-headed, and easily frustrated when things don't work out. I can push things past the limit, and I can get too focused on doing to remember that goals are great but this does not mean they are not subject to revision. And sometimes should be subject to revision.
As I sit here preparing for another fall semester, I can’t help but think of that poem for more than its cringe-worthy memories. Though it has only been hot and summery for a few days in Boston, the shadow of autumn still manages to cut through the hazy humidity of summer. Leaves are scattered across the lawn already, and syllabi and new schedules must be set.
And for as much I love the fresh slate that is September, I am not ready. I’ve only just gained some semblance of stable health and in such a visceral way, I dread giving pieces of it back to every infection I know will come. My jaw clenches thinking about it. I do not want evenings to start at 4pm, I do not want to cough up blood, or lose holidays and weekends.
I would love September, if only October-April did not follow it.
I’ve put in long (long) hours on the book I am writing, and have realized the process is much slower than I had anticipated this time around. Reluctantly, I take research detours and “let things marinate” because it is what the book demands, but it goes against my nature to do this, especially with my daily word count stipulations hanging over me.
I’m expanding my editorial business and love connecting with clients and taking on new projects, and my excitement for it consumes me.
I am not patient. If I were, I would not exist so often in extremes. I have high expectations for my writing projects, for my career, for my health to remain stable, and for our future family (and that is certainly not an easy or quick process, either.)
I do not want to stand still when it is my nature to equate motion with progress. I do not want setbacks or delays; nor do I want winter, or to miss daily word counts, or to have taken such a circuitous route thus far towards being a parent.
And yet I yield.
All I can do is have hope: hope that things come to fruition as they are meant to; hope that I will have the wisdom to know when to pull back or push forward; hope that decisions we make now are right later, and hope that I don't ever move too far from extremes. I don't ever want to forget that fluttery, excited, jittery, all-consuming feeling. It took me fourteen years to name it as hope.