Years ago, I heard a pastor tell a story about an ECG monitor as an allegory of perseverance. To paraphrase, a husband passed away while holding his wife’s hand. However, his ECG monitor continued to detect her heartbeat from their joined hands. The pastor concluded by stating, “Someday, you might find yourself flat on your back with life’s monitor telling you, ‘You’ve flatlined! You can’t go on; it ends here!’ But your heart is still beating.” (There were joking responses of course that it was actually the wife’s heartbeat, not the husband’s, but the pastor kindly requested everyone focus on the story’s meaning instead.)
Unfortunately, I’ve met a multitude of people who’ve found themselves in a similar position, sometimes focusing all their energies into just breathing. Several of us at The Collective lost loved ones in recent months. We’ve celebrated birthdays and said goodbye to family members within 24 hours. Such is the nature of life—grand finales and entrances. Still I sit in my grief and think this masterpiece ends with the antagonist, hopelessness, bowing instead.
Motivational speaker Nick Vujicic says,
. . .we’re all looking for something, we’re all looking for hope, hope you can’t just have just because you were born with hope. No, we’re born with pain. We’re born and live through difficult times. . .we have a choice, either to be angry for what we don’t have or be thankful for what we do have.
Choice is power.
Overlooking criticisms of Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown (2005), there is something beautiful about Susan Sarandon’s performance in how her character, Hollie Baylor, navigates the aftermath of the sudden loss of her husband. Hollie’s grieving is characterized by an obsessive need for forward movement, which seems to create additional burdens of frustration and annoyance for her children (played by Orlando Bloom and Judy Greer). On-screen, she’s “put together” in spite of adversity.
But off-screen she’s “falling apart”. Only when she shares the humorous moments with the audience later in the movie, do we see her full character arc. We are fragile and strong, complex beings. Hollie’s journey parallels the cautioning words of author Cheryl Strayed,
Many people who seem to be gliding right along have suffered and are suffering.
Yet she chooses to perform a tap dance as a final goodbye to her husband at his funeral. And I think her dance is the perfect response to tragedy, because it echoes that choice— the [glorious] observable aid to Helen Keller’s insight—
Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.
We may encounter hopelessness at numerous points, which may have more to do with losing ourselves rather than losing a friend or family member. But we’re never alone. And survivors sing of the great reminder,
We have hope.