We’ve come to love a beautiful poem called “Doubletake” by Irish poet Seamus Heaney. It seems to be this poet’s way of conveying a conviction that hard, painful and unjust as this life may appear to be (and frequently is), hope is justifiable because every so often we see goodness of such tremendous magnitude that we can only stand in awe and wonder before it. Here are a few lines from Heaney’s poem: “History says, don’t hope on this side of the grave. But then, once in a lifetime … hope and history rhyme. Believe that further shore is reachable from here. Believe in miracles and cures and healing wells.”
A brief review of 20th century history and its record of war, famine, genocide and terrorism might indeed lead us to conclude that history says “don’t hope.” But then again, as the poet suggests, might hope and history rhyme? Now that’s an intriguing thought, isn’t it? Rhyming implies resonance, fit, complementarity, paring and connection. Can hope and history be so joined in our world – or even in our own lives?
History is of the past. We have a personal history, of course, perhaps some mixture of hardship and joy, challenge and success. But each of us also has hopes for what may yet come. Perhaps our hope can complement our history, even enrich it and complete it. Maybe hope will temper history and allow us to reach the further shore of our dreams if we can, as the poet suggests, simply believe. Such powerful belief, he implies, must encompass four things.
First, belief entertains the possibility of miracles. Miracles are the wondrous, marvelous, utterly inexplicable things of life. Simply finding someone to love, for example, out of all the millions of people in the world, we might say is wondrous. That parents and children can live together and grow together and care deeply and passionately for one another’s welfare is amazing. That friend can care for friend through thick and thin, even at the cost of personal comfort and self-sacrifice, is a form of miracle. Believe in miracles.
Second, belief demands the acceptance of cures. In other words, when things go wrong, we must trust that nothing is irreparable. When dreams grow tarnished or dim, they are not irretrievable. When harsh words are spoken, or relationships feel strained, or downturns are encountered, restoration is not impossible. Believe in cures.
The third thing we must believe in is healing wells. We must believe that the life we’ve been granted possesses an endless capacity for refreshment and renewal. Look to the people, places, ideas, and convictions that serve as your healing wells. They are the sources from which you may draw again and again, without fear of their running dry or growing stagnant. Trust that you may draw upon their capacity to heal. Believe in healing wells.
Finally, there is a fourth thing we think must be believed if our history and our hopes are to rhyme and carry us to the far shore we long to reach. That fourth thing is that Someone is listening, watching, caring and dreaming right along with us. If we can believe in Someone bigger than ourselves, then when our own resources are depleted and the sails are empty, we can entrust ourselves to the ungovernable wind of God’s love that steers a steady course. If we can believe that God loves us in ways beyond our knowing, at a depth beyond our comprehension, with a power beyond anything we can conceive, then we can live trustingly, even now, as if our hopes and our history will rhyme.
Life may not be perfection, but it can be poetry.