A Road Trip Toward Hope: ‘All Will Be Well?’

Julian of Norwich– a 14th-century English mystic – wrote down a series of visions that she received as she thought she lay dying. And probably the most famous line from her writings are the words, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” I have always found those words to be comforting somehow ... especially in the midst of various life’s turmoils.

And boy, are we in a turmoil now! Pandemic raging, economy on the skids, folks out of work, and White House shenanigans suggesting a mean election season just around the corner. So ... shall all be well? Like the rest of you, I long for “normal” ... I long for my old life back, for the pleasure of friends’ company, for all the theater productions and season tickets gone to waste, for the joy of communal gatherings at church on Sunday mornings, and on and on. But David and I are trying to strike some kind of balance between being super-prudent and still preserving some quality of life within the constraints laid down by local government and good sense.

So as I mentioned in my last blog, we did in fact journey by car up to the Poconos a couple of weeks back. Our trip had two purposes: first, to visit an old and dear friend who is ailing, and second, for our own pleasurable getaway – this time at wonderful Lake Wallenpaupack, located east of Scranton, PA. This is a place where I have gone in past summers for decades and one that David and I also visited last year. Historically, the name Wallenpaupack was given by the Lenape Indians and means “the Stream of Swift and Slow Water.”

Today, the lake itself is a reservoir, and is the second-largest lake contained entirely within Pennsylvania. It was created in 1926 by the Pennsylvania Power & Light Company for “hydroelectric purposes as well as flood control; however, it is best known as one of several major recreational destinations in the Pocono Mountains.” (Source: Wikipedia) Anyway, all 5,700 acres of it are stunning and the resort where we stayed – The Silver Birches – was located right on its shoreline.

One day, as we were seated on our front porch overlooking the lake (see the lead photo and several photos below), David read two lines to me from a novel he was reading. I thought they were so fitting in terms of our mood and our needs – and also fit my musing about this current blog – that I jotted down the page number for reference when we got home. They read: “When we don’t allow ourselves to hope, we don’t allow ourselves to have purpose. Without purpose, without meaning, life is dark. We’ve no light within, and we’re just living to die.” (Dean Koontz, From the Corner of His Eye, Bantam Books, 2000, p. 214.)

Thinking about that quote, I believe I could add a third purpose to our Pocono Mountain trip. In addition to seeing an old friend and getting out of Dodge for a while – normalizing our life a bit – we were ... and are ... in search of hope. Because I do believe that without hope, we are lost.

Congressman John Lewis comes to mind as I write these lines. Certainly he was a beacon of hope to many, someone who never gave up his dream of equality and his life's purpose to somehow move our nation and each one of us toward a greater realization of that ideal. And the week of accolades and honor he received following his death reflects a basic recognition in most folks’ minds and hearts that he was awe-inspiring in his relentless efforts to achieve a “more perfect union.” This despite his beatings and hardships in his early years. He never gave up.

Which brings me again to my friend Philip Simmons. (For the last time for a while, I promise.) But I can’t resist commenting on one other essay in his Learning to Fall. In a chapter he calls “Mud Season,” he basically describes the condition of all of our lives, sooner or later. He notes the obvious: “We all ... go through personal mud seasons. ... We suffer illness and depression, the loss of loved ones, failing or failing marriages, crises of faith – in ourselves, in others, in our gods.” But Simmons also points out that we are all in fact wired to worry, to magnify small problems until the hangnail becomes a broken finger! And then we feel sorry for ourselves for our troubles. So big or small, life is filled with “mud” of some kind or another.

But then Simmons points out the basic truth of the matter. He says “we need the mud for what grows from it.” He also notes the following:

Dying, like mud, can take many forms, but every death, in the sense I mean, is a letting go. We let go of ambition, of pride, of ego. We let go of relationships, of perfect health, of loved ones who go before us to their own deaths. We let go of insisting that the world be a certain way. ... In letting them go, we may also let go fear, let go our white-knuckled grip on a life that never seems to meet our expectation, let go our anguished hold on smaller selves our spirits have outgrown ...

Before my illness [he had been diagnosed with ALS] I, like everyone, had always spent much of my time in the mud, only I didn’t know to value it. Mud seemed only to block my way. I had spent my life in pursuit of knowledge and happiness, only to find out that both were overrated. For what is knowledge without faith, and what is happiness without sorrow? The path to resurrection lies through the mud because only through pain and sorrow do we grasp the necessary truth [of our lives]. ... All of us, young and old, soon and late, find our way to the mud, the season of our terrible and certain joy. Let us bring to it all the spirit we can muster. (pp. 80, 86-89)

Well, now we are up to our ankles in mud for sure. And so the question remains: Will all be well ... in the end? Or in the meantime? Or when a vaccine is found, or our government works again? All we can do is cling to hope ... and to each other, one way or another. Remembering that if we give up hope, we have no light within. And at that point, we are just living to die. And we – like John Lewis – are not about to roll over and do that. At least, not before our individually appointed time. So let us march to Lewis’ drum and keep the faith!

And take care of each other in the meantime. ’Cause we’re all in this together, friends. And that is good enough to go forward with hope in our hearts. Knowing for sure that “all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

That’s a promise!

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Sandra M. Levy, Ph.D., M.Div.
I am a clinical psychologist, Episcopal priest and author, and I currently serve as Priest Associate at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia.