Hope. I was nervous when my minister [in Hawaii] asked me to speak about Hope and to reminisce about a childhood memory. It’s so big and powerful. So I started combing through my childhood memories searching for that huge landmark example of hope - and ended up finding hope in the simple rather than the spectacular.
I grew up in a small town in Nova Scotia on the east coast of Canada where the weather at best is described as 10 months of winter and 2 months of bad sledding. Because of our northern location there isn’t a whole lot of sunlight during the winter. In high school this meant going to school at 8:00 a.m. in the pitch dark and returning home in the dark around 4:30.
I remember one afternoon in early December. Exams were approaching, and I had some questions for a teacher. I stayed after class and ended up being longer than expected. When I finally emerged, I searched the hallways but my friends were long gone. I was on my own. It was a small town which meant no buses. And as my daughter will one day learn, my three mile walk home was uphill in both directions. Outside the winds were gusting and the flurries had started on the forecasted snow which we were all praying would amount to a Snow Day.
I went to my locker and loaded up my backpack with all my textbooks to prepare for my exams as well as my clarinet to take home to practise. Being a teenager, my locker was desperately lacking the sensible mittens, hat and scarf which would have made my looming walk home less daunting. But alas, I was a teenager and bring warm wasn’t cool.
When I exited the school the cold engulfed me. I buried my nose into the collar of my jacket. Staring at my feet, I shuffled home through the snow as quickly as I could. As I progressed down Spring Street, I was dreading the turn onto Willow which would point me both uphill and facing directly into the wind.
As I grudgingly turned the corner, waiting for that Arctic blast on my face, something caught my eye. I bravely lifted my head and was greeted by a warm red glow. The first Christmas lights of the season! They lit up the dark and seemed to reflect off every snow-covered surface. It wasn’t an extravagant display or an extraordinary house. In each of the bedroom windows was a single red bulb Christmas candle. I started to smile. I knew the family that lived there and thought of how excited the two boys would be anticipating Christmas.
Those simple lights heralded Christmas, lifting me out of the snowy streets. I forgot about my heavy backpack, my toes numbing in my shoes and the clarinet case frozen to my ungloved fingers. They whispered of times and joys to come. Of Christmas celebrations, concerts, parties and caroling, gingerbread and hot chocolate, of life slowing down and my family and friends being together and enjoying the Christmas spirit.
The highlight was always Christmas Eve when everyone came home. Children and grandchildren returned from “the city”, all the college kids were on break and our huge, lofty church for one night was standing room only.
The cold seemed to melt away and I began to smile as I recalled the previous Christmas Eve. Packed in like sardines, my younger brother nudged me, pointing out a particularly awful perm job on the gray-haired lady in front of us making odd noises, whine, whine. My brother began to chuckle, and she must have heard him. We froze. She slowly turned around, her profile came into view, a long furry snout with a cold, wet nose: someone had brought their poodle to church. It seemed all family members attended Christmas Eve service, even the four-legged ones! I was laughing to myself remembering the expression on my brother’s face when suddenly I realized I was home: my cold dark lonesome walk was over and forgotten! My head was awash with memories of Christmas past and eager anticipation of the forthcoming Christmas.
That’s what hope is. It’s the small feeling, action or belief that grows from out of nowhere. That’s the true power of hope: it’s a small bright light in a dark cold winter night. On its own it doesn’t solve anything, it doesn’t take the cold away, it doesn’t flood the area with light - it reaches further than that. It enters the soul, the heart and the brain and whispers the promise “and this too shall pass” and awakens the human spirit.
Heather Barnhill is the daughter of Nancy and Sandy Fairbanks. Her family has moved from Hawaii to West Point, N.Y. She credits her teacher, Marilyn Munroe, with encouraging her to write.