Holding Hope

I received the paperweight in this photo more than 40 years ago during what had just become the darkest Advent season of my life.

“This is a gift from Mrs. McCord and me,” the president of Princeton Seminary said to me as he pressed it in my hand.

A freak accident had injured my (at that time) husband, and radically altered the course of both of our lives.  Sitting in the hospital chapel, having just received the news and allowing the gravity of the situation sink in, I was surprised to look up and see President McCord slide into the pew beside me.  “I’m here to pray with you,” he said.

Several days later, I was still spending most of my time at the hospital, keeping vigil.  By now I had been joined by family members, friends, and others in the seminary community.  At times there were so many of us that we overspilled waiting rooms and filled the halls as we waited for medical updates and opportunities to visit the comatose patient.

President McCord stepped into this chaos to see me again.  This way-too-busy man (attentive to the entire student body, faculty, administrators, support staff, alumni, and a host of others) at a way-too-busy time of the year (the semester was ending, and Christmas was days away, for heaven’s sake!) had come to check on me.

That’s when he handed me the paperweight – a reminder of the community that I had only become part of a few months earlier.

And what a wonderful community it turned out to be!

When I was emotionally paralyzed, members of this community rushed in to hold me.  And as they did that, they maintained a clear-eyed hope that I couldn’t access at the time.

While I was wishing for things to just go back to the way they were, these people fostered genuine hope by walking with me and supporting me as I faced what was to come next – day by day, week by week, month by month.

Here’s what I’ve learned about hope since those days:

                           Hope is tough.  It’s gritty and determined. It’s durable.

                           Hope is courageous.

                           Hope never lives in delusion.  It sees and accepts present reality for what it is, not for what we wish it were.

Over the years that little paperweight has become a symbol of hope. And it has graced a corner of every desk in every office I’ve had since those dark days.  While, like me, it’s sustained some dings and nicks over the decades, it remains nearly indestructible.  It’s held up well, even though I’ve twisted and fingered it so much that I’ve worn a hole in the middle of its cork backing.

To this day, I often find myself absent-mindedly reaching for it when I’m trying to solve a problem or simply looking for inspiration.  Though the marble is cool to the touch and the edges are angular and hard, I’m oddly comforted by its weight when I hold it in my hand.

In this season when the word “hope” is uttered frequently, my marble and metal paperweight, and the story it carries, reminds me that hope is much more than wishes and desires.  It’s a way of living.  It’s trusting that, together, we can face what comes.

Hope is what we offer and hold for each other, even in the most difficult times; even when the way forward is unclear and there seem to be no good choices.

Photo by Chuck Ashton