For me this year Christmas is a season of hope. You may ask, isn’t it always about hope? Not necessarily. The season can take on various meanings to us based on what happened during that year. Some years we may feel immense joy and express rejoicing as Christmas approaches. While other years are filled with unspeakable sadness and Christmas dredges up memories that lead to more pain. Other years are just “blah,” nothing too bad happened but nothing special either. I try to be an upbeat person but I’ve experienced various feelings and emotions around Christmas, not every year is festive.
In January, we had two other deaths within our close family and friends. And while both were in their 90’s and had lived full lives it made for some difficult times. I hoped attending funerals would be over for a while. Sadly, that wouldn’t be the case. As we all know death is as much a part of life as being born but that doesn’t make it any easier when confronted by the finality of the losses we experience.
February arrived as did my annual visit with two close friends to watch the Super Bowl. At the last minute, one of my friends couldn’t make it and I hesitated whether I should still go. I reached out to my buddy, and he said to come. I wavered at first but a still small voice told me to go. I brought my son to the game (he had never seen a Super Bowl since I’m normally gone) and we ended up having a wonderful time. Little did I know at the time how fortuitous the decision to go would become. A week later I received a call you never want to receive. That same friend, who I sat next to the previous week during the game had collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. By the time I found out what happened it didn’t look good. This was the same person I laughed with and kidded just a few days prior. As I was about to step out the door for the hospital, another call came to say he already passed. It crushed me I didn’t get to see him in time but I drove the hour to the hospital. Of course, we had an ice storm to add to my anxiety and grief. When I arrived, the hospital staff allowed me into his room where I held my friend’s hand and said goodbye one last time. Grief overcame me as I stood there and looked at him. But then the words my son said only 6 weeks previous flooded back and crashed over me like a wave. My child’s assurances comforted me knowing I would see my friend again one day when my own journey came to an end. In times like that, you lean on your faith. Having none must be a terribly empty feeling.
Fortunately, there were no other funerals during 2016. By spring I started to query literary agents with the goal of having the first of my three novels published. As the summer progressed the rejections letters (e-mails actually) accumulated. Yet, still, I had hope. When the last correspondence arrived, from an agent that had my full manuscript I once again heard “no.” But you know what? It didn’t disappoint me the way I expected it might. Instead, I truly believed other doors would open as I moved forward. Rejections are more common than acceptance for writers and I felt certain it would make the “yes” response one day that much sweeter. My contacts with fellow writers, my peers, increased around that same time and these amazing people provided me with encouragement. Their kind words, offers of support, assistance, and advice on how to navigate the publishing world strengthened my hope and resolve. One after another I heard the same three words, never give up. And I won’t. Ever.
During 2016 I became much more active on social media. In doing so, I’ve met so many people that not only encouraged me on my journey but some of them have become genuine friends. Much of my social media interactions takes place on Twitter. One person I follow, who’s not a writer, has the handle @ScottHarvath (for those of you that don’t know Scot Harvath is the name of the character created by one of my favorite authors, Brad Thor). Soon I discovered @ScottHarvath was an alias for a man named Terry, a 9/11 first responder battling stage 4 Esophageal cancer. As I followed Terry and learned about his journey it continually amazed me how he encouraged others. Here’s a man in dire straits using his time and energy as a way to reach out to others, lift them up, and inspire them to “Stay In The Fight!” I can’t say with certainty I would have Terry’s positive attitude if I came face to face with a similar diagnosis. Terry renews my hope in people and their ability to touch lives, and I’m encouraged by the support he provides others facing similar struggles. Keep Terry, his family, and those battling cancer in your thoughts and prayers as we begin 2017. If you’re in a dark place and struggling to find hope follow Terry. If possible, please consider donating to Esophageal cancer. After all, Christmas is a season of giving, and what better gift can we give than a cure to end this terrible disease.
And here I thought at one point 2016 might be hard since I would turn 40 before the end of the year. In retrospect, that might have been one of the easier parts of my year. Yet, one thing never left me through the trials and tribulations of the year, hope. I kept being reminded of that time and again as the year progressed. You see, 2016 hasn’t been about loss, but renewal.
No matter what occurs in this life we must find our inner strength, and above all as Terry would tell us “Stay in the fight!” Your struggles may be small compared to something like cancer but whatever battles we may face our resolve must be the same. We either allow ourselves to fall into hopelessness when difficulties arise (and they will), or we can rise up and embrace hope. There’s a Latin phrase I read at St Peter’s Cathedral in Geneva, Switzerland that has stayed with me over the years and ties into this year perfectly, Post Tenebras Lux, which means, “Light After Darkness.” It’s true. Believe in it.
All the best,