Remembering Hope

All winter I watched a neighbor’s deck lights from my back window as they glowed against the grey and cold. The string of lights stretched between tree branches above the wooden deck. Morning and evening, I watched those lights create a small space of warmth against the dark woods beyond.

I suppose I needed that sense of warmth. Winters have felt colder and greyer to me these last couple of years. Weather data might not support that impression, of course. My sense of lingering cold may have had more to do with pandemic time, with watching people still consider COVID case numbers and hesitate to gather with a lack of outdoor options. Perhaps my sense of relentless grey had more to do with news of war and civilian casualties in Ukraine. I’ve wondered how much pain a world can bear. I’ve craved peace, health, warmth, sunshine, comfort, and so many things. 

Wondering, craving, waiting in the cold and grey, I’d sometimes wander by my back window and be caught up short, surprised: I was smiling at the sight of the deck lights. Gazing out into the dim grey light of a morning or evening, I’d find the deck lights glowing gently nearby. They brought a smile to my face before I’d even realized it. These moments at the back window surprised me again and again. Something about the warmth drew me. Something about those lights, alone lighting the land as far as my eye could see, stopped me. They kept making me smile.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against the grey, or night, or cold. I love darkness, nighttime, winter, rain, snow, and all sorts of occasions that send a person inside in search of warmth and light. I appreciate, too, the seasons of life that invite us inward. Outward constrictions come in many forms: constrictions on physical space, on extroverted activities claiming our attention, on energy-consuming habits we could once afford. Outward constrictions on these can offer a us gentle nudge to pause and rest, to dwell in smaller, glowing spaces that comfort us.

As I get older, though, I become more and more aware of how times of needing comfort will come sometimes and linger. They may linger long past our tolerance for them. Perhaps this awareness fed into what became my unplanned winter practice of pausing to behold the string of lights glowing above my neighbor’s deck each morning and evening. They brought me joy.

Joy calls out to joy, after all. Light reminds us of light. Those string lights sent my memory back to my grandparents’ house at the end of a small, winding road up a wooded hill. Evenings fell there with not a single streetlight in sight. To a city girl like me, darkness felt deeper there. When I’d spend a winter night with them, I’d wake before dawn and follow a trail of nightlights that my grandmother left leading to the kitchen. She and my grandfather would be sitting there at an island counter, drinking their first pot of coffee under the warm glow of two overhead lights. I loved finding them there together, waking slowly and gathering their energies for the coming day in that small spot of warmth and light. 

Photo by Callie J. Smith

I find that memory tells me a lot about what is possible. Good memories bring me not only comfort from the past. They point me towards the future, as well, and towards hope. Those small spots of warm light reminded me of the comforts I still carry with me that will, in one way or another, surely come again.

In the summer of 2020, after months of lockdowns and restrictions, I gathered outdoors with a few friends on someone’s back deck. String lights ran between their house and a stand of trees in the yard nearby. Our chairs socially distant, we sat underneath the deck lights and made a feast out of cheese, crackers, chocolate, and chit-chat until well after dark. Under that string of lights, friends lingered at a time when I think that many of us dearly needed that kind of pause together. It felt like regrouping and gathering our energies for the long pandemic months still ahead. Sitting on a back deck with friends, I remember feeling lighter, more glad, more relaxed than I had in months.

What memories call out to you? What moments remind you of what’s possible?

Our best memories can serve as promises, too. Making our way through days, months, or years, we’ll stumble across a moment that glows, a moment that captures our attention at a deep enough level that it reminds us of what’s possible. Even during the cold, grey, rainy, and snowy spring days we’ve recently had here in Indiana, I’ll still pause by a window with the warm glow of my neighbor’s deck lights. I’ll remember to trust that longer days, days visiting with friends in the evening sunlight, even days of a deeper and more just kind of peace, will come.