Twenty-three years ago I was in college and flat broke. It was my Sophomore year and my deal with my parents was that I’d cover books and spending money if they covered tuition. One of the things I didn’t learn in college was that my Sophomore course books would be quite a bit more expensive than my Freshman texts. I also didn’t count on money spending faster once we had cars (which were disallowed on campus for first-year students.) So I ran out of money after six weeks. Yes, the money that I thought would last all semester lasted exactly one-third of it. I had two options–ask my parents for more cash or get the only job on campus available to students who didn’t qualify for work-study. I went for option B and got a job in the dishroom cleaning up after meals eaten by a bunch of privileged kids at a Christian University. (A lot of food got thrown away or put into gruesome concoctions designed to torment the dishroom staff.) And most people who know me know how this story goes so we’ll fast-forward all the suspenseful details and just get to the part where I ended up falling in love with the mean guy who was my boss.
Twenty-one years ago we got married. Twenty-one years ago we came down to Nashville for grad school and a promised job. Neither thing went exactly as planned and we learned how to live by our wits–and three jobs a piece–in the middle of a recession.
Eighteen years ago we started talking about having babies.
Back then I was an avid cross-stitcher and had ex’d my way through Precious Moments, Priscilla’s Precious Bears and just about every other cutesick thing meant to hang in a nursery. After a few years and several “for the nursery” crafts we figured out there was quite possibly a problem. So I set aside the kids’ stuff and began working on a project called The Angel Of Hope.I stitched her for years, a sort of de facto rosary where I’d dream dreams about our future life and perfect brood as I pulled the thread across the slender bars of linen. Seven years ago, barren as the Sahara and aching with what was then a mysteriously never-ending case of the flu, I packed her away. I couldn’t throw her out,though, and I suppose that does say something about my faith surviving my hope.
For several weeks now I’ve been feeling the urge to return to my old hobby. This past weekend I unpacked my angel and inventoried all my DMC flosses, remembering how so many of them had been purchased to make something for the babies’ room. I had had so much hope back then.
It occurred to me last night while stitching her wing that maybe what I had all those years ago wasn’t really hope, but fantasy. A storybook vision of how things Ought To Be, brought to me by rumours and stories and television.
Now I sit here with the back door open, sun and fresh air lazily walking in with chirps of birds in their arms. I realise I’m soon to be forty-two years old. The answer to all things. I have a new hope now, and it doesn’t have feathers or perch in my soul or look through baby name books or tour model homes on the weekend. It’s just there. It tells me that good and bad are survivable and worthwhile. My stitches don’t have prayers in them anymore. My prayers don’t have hectoring at God in them anymore. Stitches are stitches, prayers are conversations and hope is the project I just couldn’t bring myself to throw away.