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I admit it. I’ve been neglecting this blog.

I guess I hit a point in November where I was blogging so frequently, I started wondering if I was saying anything anymore.

I think it’s also because I was trying to process through some stuff that I didn’t quite have the words for.  The tangle of thoughts centers around this idea of bent hope. Have I mentioned bent hope before? I don’t even remember.  Here’s the background:

A year ago, at the beginning of the fall semester, I was on a plane with a friend from Toronto to New Brunswick, and she told me about this book.  I thought nothing of it.  People tell me about a lot of books, I rarely read them.  Being a university student, I had my own rather demanding book-list to work through.

But she lent me the book and I started to read it.  It was a collection of short stories, true stories, based on one man’s experience working on the streets of Toronto with homeless youth.  The stories captured my attention.  They seemed to give voice to the nagging ache in my chest that has encountered injustice and felt helpless, or just ignorant of a response.  I remember walking to school and feeling the rain soak through my sneakers and thinking about the boy in the book with cardboard shoes.

The book started me on a road of questioning that is still waiting, perhaps forever waiting, to be resolved.

How do we hope in the face of suffering?

This might sound crazy, or cheesy, or melodramatic, or what have you, but I’m going to say it anyways.  I think part of why the book hit me as hard as it did was because last fall, for the first time, I felt like I was facing my own, our own, mortality.   I had never known anyone who had died before.  Apart from the time my brother was hospitalized (and back then I think I was still too young to fully grasp what dying meant), I had never known anyone who really even came close to dying.  And then last year, all around me, I saw it.  Not death necessarily, but our mortality, our fragility – two deaths in my family, three serious car accidents involving friends and people I knew from high school, a friend diagnosed with cancer, a friend’s miscarriage.

I think the book hit me hard because I was already looking for a reason for our suffering.  All of this stuff seemed to be happening without apparent cause, without someone to hold accountable (by which I guess I mean someone to blame).  Stuff that seemed unjust.

I have never been very good at compartmentalizing.  So combine all that with courses in Native History, and an increasing awareness of situations in Burma and Sudan, and our recent Europe trip that included visiting a concentration camp in Germany.  I guess it all kind of gets wrapped up into this one large, overwhelming mass that screams ‘what the hell are we living for?’

This book kind of added to all of that, with stories of brokenness and fragility, and yet, traced throughout it, is this awkward, lingering idea of hope. Bent hope.  The author writes,

“fragmented glimpses of fragmented lives, where hope is anything but shiny and bright. unpolished. crushed. twisted. bent hope… but somewhere in the wrinkles of every brief account, hope continues to hum. it continues to breathe. often shallow breaths at best; even the faintest final breath, whispering one more note in the music of the soul. bent hope – inviting us all to be part of the music.”

I don’t (and he doesn’t) mean the kind of naive hope that sees a silver lining in every cloud or a rainbow after every storm. Sometimes storms come through our lives and they decimate us.  Some injustice is too evil to have a silver lining.

No, this was lyrical hope.  Hope that sometimes sounds more like lament.

Just before I stopped blogging I went down to Toronto to volunteer with Light Patrol, an outreach that was started by the author of the book.  They try to operate on the principle that what many homeless youth and adults need more than food or shelter is relationship.  Community. A chance to be more than just a face in a line with a need. (More on this later, perhaps.)

I met a girl named Lisa that night.  I could tell you what little I know about her story.  I could maybe tug at your heart strings a bit.  And although what you would feel might be similar to the initial, superficial impression I first had in meeting Lisa, what I was left with was this real deep sense of her humanness.  Despite her story (or maybe because of her story), she had maintained this… this realness, this aliveness.  This “yeah, the world is shitty sometimes, but we keep holding out for tomorrow”.  I don’t think I can even put a word to it.

Maybe the word here is hope.

But she was there.  Not another homeless person, not another face without a name or part of a socio-economic demographic, not a victim or an addict or a statistic.

Lisa.

I haven’t gone back yet.  I don’t know why.  I’ve made semi-lame excuses.  Perhaps it’s because the humanness I encountered in Lisa – the raw, edgy hopefulness she embodied – still scares me a little bit.

“Either we are all beggars, hookers, and junkies, or none of us are.” – Bent Hope, Tim Hufff.

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