Hope is a journey and it is a destination.
It is a vision of many lights and it
dwells in Psalm 40:
“I waited patiently for the Lord to
help me and He turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of
despair, out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground and
steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing, a
hymn of raise to our God.
Many will see what He has done and be
They will put their trust in the
Hope is my story
The vision that opened the door to
hope kept coming back to me like it was sitting on my
I saw hope and the power of its
counterweights, hopelessness and despair in a sweeping panorama of the darkest
place on earth.
Hopelessness was a vicious vision but
hope kept the edge; in the end, its light stood
The biochemical errors that burden
mental illnesses create molecular level thieves that steal hope with a thousand
They are ungoverned intruders with no natural enemies.
This kind of hopelessness is
different than the despair that abounds in circumstances and life’s common course.
It steals the breath of life; all hope is buried under a blanket of suffering so heavy it separates people from the will to live.
I stood on the outskirts of hope’s
vision and saw the despair of mental illnesses moving like an eclipse of the sun; the shadows got longer and
the dark side of the moon showed its face.
My own story fell out of the night sky with the power of shattered stars.
Mental illness with all its terrible
power and consequences swept out of hell and struck me down at age 19, just when I was starting a college career.
My hopes and dreams for the future
folded and collapsed like a house of cards in a high wind.
I was hospitalized after a suicide attempt in 1975.
One hospitalization followed another until 25 years of my life disappeared into despair and its revolving doors.
Every day I woke up on the wrong side of death.
Dawn broke into pieces before even I opened my eyes.
Everything I saw was the color of grief and the grave.
Eventually grave sight usurped eyesight.
There was nothing noisy or intrusive
to mark the place where my life blended into death.
Despair didn’t come on the high winds of a
hurricane or with the shearing power of a tornado.
It was more like a slow dose of lightning on a grey day.
There was a softness to my fall, despair blended into to a slow roll of falling footsteps.
On the day I decided to die I left
the office of my psychiatrist and headed west toward home on the main highway through Orlando.
The sun was a huge ball of brilliant orange setting on the horizon.
I was traveling into the setting sun.
Death was as inevitable as the sun
setting in the west or closing the covers of a book when the last page is turned.
There is nothing particularly remarkable about a setting sun or a book with closed covers.
The sun sets and the covers close at the end of a book, don’t they?
That day was the last page of the book of my life.
The only hope of release from my suffering was beyond the setting sun.
I decided to end my own life, I think it may have been summer but I’m not sure.
I had already stolen a gun.
There was a gun shop about three miles west on the same highway that carried the bullet I needed.
All hope was gone.
I knew where I was going to die.
It was in a dumpster behind a restaurant near the Catholic Church.
Dying in the dumpster was the final piece of the puzzle.
My life had jigged and sawed
everywhere; I had no hope of recovery and nowhere else to go.
The perfect place to end my life was
in the banana peels and used coffee grounds that filled the
Nothing seemed out of place in my mind when I
went home to get the gun and write a note to pin to my
I walked in the front door of the house; my decision was final.
The people I loved and who took care of me for
20 years were at home and sitting in the living room.
The antidepressant effect of the decision to end my suffering was striking.
The relief was better than any
antidepressant drug I had taken in 25 years of one drug failure after
Death was light and life was heavy.
I laughed and talked with genuine lightness and good humor.
There was nothing garish or forced in this last exchange with the people I loved.
As I walked into my room, I remember thinking
they would be completely shocked to find out I had shot myself in a dumpster. I wrote my intended note.
It was simple instructions to law enforcement
to call the priest at the Catholic Church I grew up in because it would be
easier for my family to hear that I committed suicide from the priest than a sheriff’s deputy.
I clearly remember the decision to get into the dumpster behind the restaurant with a gun.
But there is some peculiar mercy of the mind
or maybe it is a biological trait of broken brains; I don’t remember some of the
worst of the episodes or downslides that ended up in sixteen
I don’t remember the events that led to the hospitalization this time either.
Instead of dying in the dumpster I spent two weeks in the hospital.
Someone at the hospital asked me why I wanted to die in a dumpster.
I told them that I had known all my life I was
human garbage and that dying in a trash can was a right and fitting
Some kind soul put a sign up on the wall of my hospital room.
It was a picture of someone praying that said,
“I know I am somebody because God don’t make no
I was released from the hospital on a slightly
higher dose of the old medication, only a few shades better than the day of my date with the dumpster.
I left with the grit of hopelessness and despair still stinging my eyes.
I found the gun when I returned home.
I held it in my hands; it was still hot and too close to me.
I wrapped it in multiple layers of newspaper and put it in a large plastic garbage bag.
I went to my sister’s apartment
complex and threw it into a dumpster with high walls, too high for a child to climb into and find.
Another decade passed, despair circled me like a city under siege.
There was no way out.
My hope grew briefly when I sought out ECT(shock) treatments.
False hope was worse than no hope.
When ECT failed, I cried out in the night sky.
Where is God?
Where is He?
Something happens to life when it
falls to despair; it loses its edges and boundaries, time and suffering warp into infinity and the night never ends.
Death looks like hope.
Suicide left the shadows every day.
It was a lurching monster with eyes that never blinked.
Hopelessness was in one hand and despair was in the other.
How did I fight these crushing hands every day?
Its arms were stronger than mine.
Even on the good days when I could fight suicide I couldn’t deny its power.
Hospitals were the only place the mocking monster could not trespass.
The hospitals of the 1970’s were little more than endless hallways made of grey fog and lost hope.
I spent two years in dayrooms watching clocks with hands that didn’t move.
Clocks didn’t move in the old psychiatric wards.
The hands were so heavy with despair they stuck in infinity.
I was as silent as a frightened fly with crushed wings pasted on the wall.
I watched nursing staff and orderlies in a procession of cruelty and lost honor.
I saw hope crushed like eggshells.
I saw men crying and people sent to state hospitals.
There was nothing to do in this forsaken place but play ping pong.
It was a cruel picture.
Hopelessness and despair bounced back
and forth smacking me with every crack of the ping pong paddles.
There were no code blues or flashing
lights to mark the place we were losing our lives to despair and the brutality of the old psychiatric drugs.
Before the new medications there was nothing
to treat mental illnesses except primitive drugs that dredged up hopelessness like steam shovels.
I took them for 25 years.
They felt like back hoes burying their dead and wounded.
I never thought that the light of healing
would come and dust the demons of mental illness from my eyes.
But in 1998, after losing 25 years of my life to chronic illness, hope finally launched its lifeboats.
My faithful doctor found a new medication that worked.
It was like waking up to see the sun for the first time in my life.
Several years passed before I turned around saw a beautiful tapestry of creative design unfolding behind me.
Ribbons of gold and grace were running throughout the fabric; hope was spinning through the
I saw the taters and rags of all the lost years and that they had been mended and rewoven with a thousand points
I saw all things given, all things overcome and all prayers prayed.
Every hand held out to me along the way was there.
I saw broken bridges and the faith
and courage that carried me over all of them and that in the darkest days of my
life the Light of my journey had been carefully kept and kindled in the Hands of the Master Weaver.
In the beauty of the tapestry I could see that
no one, no matter how hopeless, ill or lonely, lives out their destiny
unattended by the Light.
The words that spilled out of the
light were simple and clear:
Hope is a fragile flame and a bright light.
It is easy to give and even easier to take away.
Once the flame of hope is lit it must be carefully kept
When hope burns brightly there is fire in its feet and the
breath of life is on its
There is purity in its purpose, vision in its light and
healing in its
Whether we teach, write, counsel or mop the halls the hopeless walk we are all called to be hope givers and keepers of the flame.
Blessed are the hope givers.
Peggy J. Symons © Copyright