I learned a valuable lesson about hope one afternoon twelve years ago when David, then 16, lapsed into a violent rage. Backing away quickly, I took shelter behind a locked bathroom door. It shuddered as my 6-foot son pounded his meaty fist against the other side, yelling he wanted to kill me.
The Arc of an Episode
This happened many times before, and I knew, with a weary certainty, it would happen again. The arc of this drama was familiar. First came the kindling of an animal ferocity in his eyes. Next, he would roar and growl, louder and louder–“You’re a monster! I won’t take it anymore!” Twenty or 30 minutes later, the slow winding down of the storm was sure to come. He would gasp for breath, and then begin to sob like the lost young man with autism that he was. In a voice high and thin like a very small child, he would say “I’m sorry–I’m the monster.” He would beg me for a hug. And the drama would end when I unlocked the door, held him tight, and said “Yes, David. I still love you.”
Can I Choose a Different Moment?
There were many such days in that terrible time before his medications and therapy worked. However, on that afternoon behind the locked door, a weirdly inappropriate giggle bubbled out of me. People say, “be in the moment.” Well, I certainly did not want to be in THIS moment. Sign me up for a nicer moment. Let me live in the arc of some other, gentler drama, with a plotline that didn’t point to a scary yet tedious dialogue of rage-regret-repeat.
Through A Different Door
This is what happened after that weirdly inappropriate giggle. Time began to rearrange itself around me. Yep. Seriously. I felt as if I suddenly could reach out and touch the past, present, and future of a larger arc in my family’s story. In the present, I was laser-focused on the crunch of a pounding fist, listening for those first tiny sounds of the waning storm. At the same time, my mind began to sift back through the details of previous episodes, processing bits of knowledge about how to funnel this explosive energy toward a safe conclusion. The thought arose, “This is getting better. We’re managing. We’re doing better.” And with that thought came a wavering image of a better future that was waiting for us to walk through a different door.
The Arc of Hope
Be in the moment? Sure. But for families like ours, it also helps to remember that this moment, good or bad, is in no way permanent. It rolls across our experience, ready to be shaped by a catalog of strengths we can choose to recognize. In the dust of that moment’s passing, there are new bits of knowledge and skill to be placed in service of the next moment’s challenges. When we can see beyond the crisis of the moment, we touch a wider arc of moments. We learn to imagine a new story: The best possible future for our children and ourselves. It’s an arc of hope, and hope makes things happen.