Hope Summons the Future
“Just as man cannot live without dreams, he cannot live without hope. If dreams reflect the past, hope summons the future.”
~ Elie Wiesel
This is my ancient recipe box. My sister made it for me during my daughter Alexa’s illness thirty-two years ago. Recently, one of my other daughters asked me for a recipe. I got out the box and searched. I didn’t find the recipe for tofu carob pie, but I did find these recipes.
They are in an article titled “Holiday Entertaining: Great Beginnings.” I had folded the pages of recipes and stored them to make another day. That day has not yet arrived and they have been in the box since the date on the pages: November–December 1986.
I was stunned when I read the date: November–December 1986. Those two months were the worst of my life. My seven-year-old daughter Alexa died from brain cancer on November 2, 1986. My memory of only a few things about those months is clear: the day she died, the day of her funeral. The other days are a blur: Thanksgiving is blank. All I remember about Christmas is the agony of unpacking her handmade ornaments and placing them on the tree. Christmas itself was a nonevent. I remember wearing too-stiff new Levi’s and a pink T-shirt to a friend’s house. I don’t remember cooking. I don’t remember giving or receiving gifts.
What I especially do not remember about those two months is reading magazines. I don’t remember eating food, much less thinking about cooking it. So of course, I don’t remember pulling these pages of recipes from that magazine—these pages that sat untouched for thirty-one years.
These pages now tell me something else I don’t remember from those years ago—something I was not aware existed in my life. These pages tell me that in the darkest days of grief, some small part of me believed in a future. Some small part of my psyche held what was the last thing to spring from Pandora’s box: Hope.
I don’t remember feeling anything beyond the most profound despair during those days. Hope was a memory, a concept tucked deep within me—but it wasn’t so deep that it no longer existed. My unconscious hope made me pick up a magazine about food. That hope believed I would be hungry again. My unconscious hope moved my eyes across the words and photos. My unconscious hope stopped at some of those words and photos. My unconscious hope moved me toward thinking that those recipes sounded like something good to eat. My unconscious hope moved my hands to tear these pages of recipes from the magazine and place them in a box. My unconscious hope believed I might cook again someday and try something new.
I say unconscious hope because during those sorrow-filled days after Alexa died, I believed I was in Dante’s inferno and had heeded the warning to “All hope abandon, ye who enter here.”
When life deals us the shattering blows of loss, one of the most life-affirming aspects of our being is often the first to go—and that is hope.
But in those days some part of me had not abandoned hope.
In spite of my despair, in spite of my darkness, I now know that hope was still alive in me, a flickering light not ready or willing to be completely extinguished by sorrow.
Those of us who have lost children, grandchildren, and siblings know that despair. We know that darkness. What we might not know, especially in the early stages of grief, is that hope remains in each of us. With each breath, with each step in our journey of healing from loss, hope is present. It becomes brighter and more real, even if we aren’t aware that hope remains.
I wasn’t aware of that hope in the early days of grief, but I am aware of it now. And I want to share with you that hope is indeed present within each of us, although we may be unaware of it. Even after the greatest loss, hope sits at our sides and walks with us and holds and nurtures us. And as it does, hope summons our future.