There’s an old rowboat sitting in the water. It is connected by thick rope to a post on shore and most days it drifts unattended within this restriction. It must belong to a fisherman. I pass by it every day on my way to and from work; my drive takes me over a modest bridge spanning the tidal river that runs through my town. It was just the other day this boat caught my eye. The tide was in and it was drifting on a placid glassy surface. The late afternoon sunlight had spread itself upon the water and the boat looked vintage and modestly superior, drifting in the here and now.
I read recently of a woman named Theresa Mancuso, an urban hermit who lived in the heart of New York City. “The thing we desperately need,” she said, “is to face the way it is.”
My fiancé and I meet with our pastor for premarital counseling early in the morning once a week; this always puts things in perspective. The rest of the day I am free to wander in the potential of my being but during this hour I am faced with the prospect someone having to endure me now, as I am. Hope cannot drown out the reality that my fiancé must do life with a human being that’s introverted to a moody degree, twirls his hair, picks his nose and sounds somewhat like a congested cow while chewing on vegetables. We are both faced with the task of learning to love another human being without a measuring stick or score card in our pocket and no five-year forecast to motivate the endeavor. This just goes to say that every now and then when I cross the bridge on my way to our counseling meeting I glance across and see that old boat sitting in the water and wonder why I haven’t taken the time to appreciate it before.
I recall a photographer teacher who told his class about a tree he passed every day on his way to work, an old crooked, bent and beautiful tree. He intended to take a photograph of it eventually. Then one day it was gone, cut down. Such a shame, we all might say. Maybe it will grow back into something beautiful, hope tells us. Take a picture of the damned stump, grace insists.
“Hope is a thing with feathers”, Dickinson wrote, one that “never…asked a crumb of me.” Perhaps this is true. But I’ve come to wonder if maybe the feathered creature on my windowsill can cause me to look at my crumbs and suddenly decide they don’t taste so good. “Hope is a dangerous thing,” Stephen King says and the impulse is to disagree. But perhaps he isn’t so wrong. Perhaps hope can be a dangerous thing when our focus on something far away overcomes the grace we’ve been granted to see the something which has come, the something that exists now. The kingdom of God is at hand, Jesus said, and the crowds asked him to move aside so they might see if the Messiah was appearing over the horizon.
I went running this morning through an old cemetery in the heart of town because I just haven’t read enough Dickinson to start the day off poorly. I stopped and looked at one of the tombstones: “David Andrews Died 1871”. I wonder when I get to that point if I could possibly regret spending my entire life learning how to foster hope, how to cradle it in my arms, care for it, and offer it the crumbs of my days. And I wonder if doing this until the time when hope is no longer needed could mean that I won’t have a clue how to take hold of grace in its infinite abundance.
The way it is, Mancuso prompts me to consider, is the way it is. Not the way it should be, would be, damnit-if-only-I-had-this could be. If beauty is anything it is beauty now and it is this state that ought to be considered, calculated and loved. Grace was given so that hope might grow, not the other way around. After all, tomorrow has enough concerns of it’s own.
So if I am anything, I am a rowboat floating upon the water and it is a rope that keeps me where I need to be now, to face the way it is. Meanwhile the sun sets with the color of a thousand hopes upon the water, shining and beckoning me to drift into forever. But for reasons unknown, hidden because they could not yet be revealed, I am tied here. And for the time being that’s where I’ll remain, dancing in the fading sunlight to the tug of a rope called grace.