Hope is a Feathered Thing

Hope is the thing with feathers t
hat perches in the soul,
 and sings the tune without the words, 
and never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
 and sore must be the storm
 that could abash the little bird
 that kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land, 
and on the strangest sea;
 yet, never, in extremity, 
It asked a crumb of me.

Emily Dickinson

A few weeks ago I witnessed a miracle.

No, really, I did.

While running along the Willamette River in Portland’s Waterfront Park, a flock of seagulls (not the punk group; the kind with feathers and wings) scavenged for food several yards ahead. From the neck of one of the birds a plastic grocery bag dangled in the sight breeze like a cape.

In 2011 Portland’s city council outlawed the use of plastic grocery bags by retailers for environmental reasons. This sea gull’s plight illustrates one.

The bag was a death sentence. Besides scavenging, gulls feed by dipping for small creatures from the river, and this action will fill the bag with water. When the bag becomes heavy enough, it will sink below the river’s surface and drown the gull.

From habit, my nurse’s brain searched rapidly for an intervention. Briefly, the ludicrous image of me somehow restraining the bird and removing the bag flashed by, but before I was completely convinced of this impossibility, the birds took flight and landed on the river including the unfortunate gull with the plastic bag cape fluttering behind.

“Oh no,” I thought.” I’m going to watch the poor bird drown.” Mesmerized the way people become when they can’t avoid watching a train wreck I stopped running and leaned against the rail of the sea wall, following the bird with my gaze.

The gull bobbed on the river’s current, the plastic bag making him easy to spot. He dipped forward and placed his beak beneath the surface of the water. I saw the bag fill, then sink. Pulled down by the weight of it, the gull fought, flapping its wings wildly as it struggled to take flight.

“This is it, I said out loud, though no one else was watching.

But it wasn’t it. Miraculously, the bag slipped away from the gull and he was airborne. I watched the bag, half submerged, float down the river like a malignant cell seeking another victim.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t a miracle, but it felt like one. I had been so sure the gull was doomed.

Maybe the miracle is that I received an object lesson about embracing phenomenon, to stay hopeful, to marvel.

Because hope is a feathered thing.

Pondering Dreams

Gate Keepers by jparadisi 2011

Gate Keepers by jparadisi 2011

People who deny themselves the privilege of dreaming are doomed to failure.

Oscar Hammerstein II

I met a twenty-something student who wants to become a doctor. He’s completed a GED and is taking art classes at a community college. For some reason, he enrolled in a science class and became enchanted by the organisms floating on a glass slide he viewed through a microscope. That’s how he decided to become a doctor. He asked for my opinion. Not wishing to throw doubt on the dreams of another, I pondered my response.

His question reminded me of the only writers’ workshop I’ve ever attended. Introductions were made around the library table where we gathered. At my turn, I introduced myself as an artist and writer developing a body of work from my experiences as a registered nurse. The eye rolling, and general lack of enthusiasm expressed by the group clearly implied my dream was ridiculous. During lunch break, a fellow participant actually told me, “You know, it takes an MFA to become either an artist or a writer.”

There’s a saying in poker: If you look around the table and can’t tell who the rube is, it’s probably you. At this table, surrounded by other wannabe writers, I was the rube.

A few weeks later, despite the dissuasion of the workshop participants, I submitted two stories, “Voyagers” and “Icarus Again,” to the publisher of an anthology of nurse stories. Both were published. Encouraged by kindly, professional editors, my writing and artwork have been published nationally many times since. My first art exhibition, fresh out of art school, was favorably reviewed by a local art critic, which is more difficult to do than it sounds.

I am an artist and writer developing a body of work from my experiences as a registered nurse.

So there.

I think about this a lot when hooking up chemotherapy infusions to patients with advanced, metastatic cancers. Their prognosis is terrible. Though it’s impossible to know what I’d choose unless actually facing similar circumstances, sometimes I think I’d choose sitting on a tropical beach staring at the ocean until the end, and not spend my last few weeks or months in an oncology clinic fighting the odds. That’s when I remind myself that any patient perhaps belongs to that small statistic of people who survive or go into remission, allowing them one more birthday, one more Christmas celebration, a family wedding, or a grandchild’s graduation.

If there is no hope, then why am I an oncology nurse? Have we nurses witnessed so much human crisis that we’ve limited our capacity for dreams? Where lies the division between dreams and realism?

What are your thoughts? Which is the larger transgression: offering overly optimistic hope or being a gatekeeper? How is this idea reconciled with diminishing healthcare resources?

 

Isaac

She opened her life to possibility,

an adjusted outlook, scarcely perceptible to the casual observer.

The opening became a womb, and miracle of wonder:

A dream conceived in the small, dark, and quiet place.

Diminutive at first; one hardly had courage to hope for its survival.

But it rooted and nagged, and held its place,

that dream. It grew. The tiny dream in the quiet place,

which sparked its existence. A miracle of wonder.

A hope against almost not.

An expectant mother laughs

at her own joy, and the laughter floats to heaven,

an offering of gratitude to God.

The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski

Here is a lovely bit of poetry written by Charles Bukowski and read by Tom Waits.  In case you didn’t receive roses or a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day, or even if you did…