Hope against Hope
So. I recognize that I have been lax in writing.
I have not been lax in thinking, however.
This summer has been as crazy-busy as it is hot.
OMG open house in April.
Family from Alaska in June, their visit culminating in a first-ever, 100% attended family reunion on my mother’s side here in Sioux Falls.
And now we sit in Düsseldorf, Germany.
We find ourselves here, in the land where I did my doctoral work, and in the land where the accident occurred, that event which killed my husband and caused my son to suffer a traumatic brain injury.
Frankly, I never considered coming back here. The memories, both good and painful, are so vibrant that even imagining the place causes a visceral reaction in me, a palpable sense of presence even from the distance of time and place.
Yet here we are.
Germany offers stem cell therapy, you see, an approach to healing not yet available to us in the United States. We learned about this opportunity through our acupuncturist, also a “novel” approach to healing in the States. But the novel stopped my son’s seizures after only three weeks, and has kept them thus at bay for over a year and a half.
So I told our acupuncturist that she had convinced me that there was a lot to be said for “fringe” approaches, and if she knew of any other any other fringy possibilities out there, I was all ears.
She told me of stem cell therapy, and put me in touch with a colleague of hers, who then put me in touch with the XCell Center in Düsseldorf.
And several months later, Karl is now resting tonight after having 11 million of his own stem cells injected into his traumatized brain.
Needless to say, I have a nice glass of red beside me.
Hope and I? We have a dicey relationship.
On the one hand, whether we realize it or not, just swinging our legs out of bed is a hope-filled move. Hope, even subconsciously, allows us to function. We hope that we will have a good day, that we’ll get to work on time, that our loved ones will get home safely, we marry, we have children. All are trajectories of hope.
But sometimes hopes are dashed.
Quite literally, actually. Mine were dashed across a street 6 years ago, almost to the day.
And ever since then, hope and I haven’t made nice with each other, precisely.
So I hope for Karl’s complete healing from his brain injury, and everything I do is geared toward making that hope tangibly true.
The reality of that occurring is slim. And so then, what good is hope?
So I have come to wonder about the toxicity of hope; that is, can hope itself be detrimental? thwart one’s acceptance of reality? allow one to live a quixotic life built on vanities and illusions?
But the danger of succumbing to hope’s opposite, despair, is equally numbing.
And I don’t particularly like the blandness of mere optimism either. I am optimistic that Karl’s present fever will go down.
But I’m not here to get a fever and reduce it.
I’m here to get Karl walking and talking.
So I have made peace with hope in the same manner as I engaged my first pregnancy, a pregnancy which ended in miscarriage. I had been told that many first pregnancies end in miscarriages, almost as if my body needed to learn what to do. And when I did miscarry, I grieved, but I did not despair….and we did not give up, and were blessed with Karl, and later Else.
I refuse to give up on the possibility that Karl can heal. And I insist upon going to great lengths to make the impossible possible. My vocation as mother calls me to that pursuit. Karl himself teaches me about the art of joyful defiance.
And, vis-à-vis God, it gives me an opportunity to remind God of God’s promises, and as I explained to a dear friend lately, I do so in a hold-God-accountable-to-God’s-promises sort of way. It is manifestly evident in Scripture that God has as God’s agenda healing. Perhaps it’s the Jew in me who feels quite comfortable pointing that out to God.
So the doctors and nurses and drivers and care-givers here, consciously or not, are ambassadors of healing. Their professionalism and clear recognition of the stakes demonstrate empathy and determination to patients and families who tend toward the isolated and exhausted. That the staff here engage in this sort of novel procedure is itself a tangible act of hope. Many of those who travel here, myself included, were told to suppress even optimism.
One last note. Germans have “doch,” a fantastic word which can be translated as an innocent, “I think you are mistaken,” to a sharp and sometimes rude rebuttal, the likes of which ought not be written down in this blog. Karl and I have a “gig.” I ask him, “Karlchen, when the doctors said that you would never talk again, or walk again, or laugh again, or make mischief again, what did I say to them?” And he says with a smile, “Doch!”
I said it in the latter sort of way.
Doch=spoken hope, and suddenly I understand hope against hope.
Boy, I was wondering if the above was from MY Stephanie – sure sounds like her, but she said no! Apparently you know another Stephanie with a lot of righteous indignation!
I can remember my grandparents saying “doch!” Until this moment I thought it was just an expressive sound like “whew” or “duh”! Thanks – it’s fun to realize what they meant!
Right after I found out my first marriage was ending 11 years ago, I was reading Pema Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart” and came upon the chapter titled “Abandon Hope!” In it I encountered for the first time the idea that hope might have a downside in that can keep us from living in the present and accepting what is. At the time I was working at an organization called Common Hope, was a volunteer at a foster care home called Hope House, and was playing in a musical group called Hope Rising, Needless to say, the concept grabbed my attention! I think it’s a worthwhile thing to give some mental energy to…what role does hope play in my life? Is it something driving me forward to make positive changes happen (even something a LOT less significant than trying to restore speech and mobility to my child!) or does it have me giving my energy to some imaginary future at the expense of living fully what is right in front of me? Good article, Anna!