Hours of Hell and Hope

The rain returns Saturday night. I wake to the smell of it as the first drops fall late at night: the scent of creekbeds, of unfurling grass, of cool stone.

Across the continent, Heather Heyer is already dead.

*

We planted a new rhododendron in May. It hasn’t bloomed yet, but its tag promises delicate pale pink ruffled flowers. It’s a double; when it blooms, it’ll be especially beautiful.

But the summer has been hot. Seattle breaks its record for days without rain. The rhododendron turns brown, dries up.

What has happened since May, anyway? Events whip past like slaps; people with more grit than I have are cataloguing them. I look it up: Yates testified, the House voted 217-213 in favor of repealing the ACA, Comey was removed.

Tiring, isn’t it?

That was all before May 10th. The rhododendron was still green, content.

*

Sunday morning is cool and gray. The rhododendron looks stronger. Its leaves are no longer limp, though many are still worryingly brown.

I see #HeatherHeyer in my Twitter notifications and I know without having to click who she is and why she died. I’d like to go to church, but I’d also like to never have to speak to another human again. To force a smile and say everything is fine, I’m great, how are you? feels like a crime.

I don’t go to church. I get coffee with my sister. We talk about everything but.

I spend the rest of the day feeling anxiety, something I’m usually spared. It feels like a tangible thing that’s crawled inside me and steadily inhales my hope, leaving me hollow. It sits heavily in my gut, making my heart race, layering over my vision with a veil of nihilism. How often can we stand up and push against this rotten, creeping wall of hate? What’s the point?

*

Would there be such an outcry if Heather Heyer had been black, asks my friend on Monday. We’d already wondered that ourselves, and we already knew the answer was a whispered no.

It’s very easy to condemn hate when it makes itself obvious. There’s no gray area when men with Confederate and swastika flags are shouting “Heil Trump” and that’s the mildest of their slogans. How much convincing will it take to stir up this sympathy next time a black person’s name becomes a hashtag?

How are there still people who need to be talked through the concept of humanity?

*

We go to a vigil Sunday evening. Around 70 people are there, some older, some with young children. Their signs are written with everything from “F*** Nazis” to Bible verses. I brought a candle in a jar. The organizers brought candles for the end of the vigil, but for the majority of that hour, I’m the only one with a candle instead of a sign. The gusting wind catches at the flame; twice it needs to be relit.

A few people speak. A representative from the NAACP says, “It’s time to start talking to each other.” I know he’s begging us to finally start listening.

A boy on his father’s shoulders leans down toward me. “What’s the candle for?”

“It’s for hope.”

The only other time I’ve ever carried a candle is for Christmas Eve. When I bend to blow out the candle at the end of the vigil, I remember the verse that always closed those services: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

I always thought that particular translation was interesting: “has not,” compared to “couldn’t” or “can never.” It’s not particularly inspiring, the way it reminds us that the wall of darkness is ever-present, but it is comforting: the light still shines, vulnerable but unyielding.

Maybe it’s the size of the crowd, or the presence of children who are learning a better way, but the thing in my gut fades away. The only way we force that wall back is by keeping pressure on it, and we take turns pushing. We aren’t alone.

*

Monday morning is cool and gray. There’s dew in the grass when I walk the dog. The rhododendron is surviving.

We dig deeper. We relight our candles. We grow, upward and outward, until the day the wall erodes, falls, and is forgotten.

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6 thoughts on “Hours of Hell and Hope

  1. This is so poignant and lovely.I love how you constantly refer to the parallel life of the rhododendron throughout the essay.“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”, this is going to stay with me.

  2. This caught my attention: Across the continent, Heather Heyer is already dead.
    Nice: How much convincing will it take to stir up this sympathy next time a black person’s name becomes a hashtag?; How much convincing will it take to stir up this sympathy next time a black person’s name becomes a hashtag?

    This piece has that feeling of your wall imagery. The weight and the pushing of the inner self against the ever present push from the outside that might not be noticed until it is magnified.

  3. You so skillfully capture the sorrow, frustration, and disbelief so many of us have felt this year, especially in light of recent events. This is darkly beautiful. I love that you wrote this, but so wish you didn’t have to. I will share this.

  4. Pingback: YeahWrite #331 Weekly Writing Challenge Winners

  5. Pingback: What I’m Into: August 2017 | Don't Stop Believing

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