Drizzle and clouds drape the city, and we drive through a landscape both crowded and barren. Hand-painted signs for mechanics and fried fish point to windows long since covered over by graffiti-scrawled plywood. Corner stores, metal grates across their doors, boast crowds of huddled bodies under small overhangs, seeking solace from rain and cold alike.
When she climbs back in the car, we drive across town so she can pay her rent. Temperatures dip below eighteen degrees and she explains she had to keep the heat on somehow in a poorly insulated house with a too-small HVAC, busted out windows, and a landlord who offers the consolation of a small space-heater. She laughs, she says, only so she doesn’t cry. Her husband moved out of state to find work, because no one would give him a job. And she works double shifts at minimum wage, dropping out of culinary school to keep the water turned on.
In a neighborhood with corner stores and gas stations offering alcohol and gambling machines and not much else, signs for Title Pawns, rent-to-own-furniture, and Bail Bonds pepper the landscape like banks and Starbucks in the ‘burbs. But I swallow down the lecture I’ve heard from my dad and Dave Ramsey alike, the one about making wise decisions and how Title Loans and what-have-you only entrap in cycles impossible to claw your way out from. We chat instead about marriage and husbands who are forgetful, and the impossibility of keeping your house clean with so many teenage boys tromping through. Because in a place of desperation that I cannot quite wrap my mind around, poor-decision can look and feel a whole lot like only-hope.
Adam works long hours this week so we can pay our own bills. I drive neighbors and kiddos all across Atlanta and back again, herding children, feeding them dinner, and packing a lunch for the one who wont eat his school lunch because someone found a cockroach in the food at his lunch table. An actual cockroach. Meanwhile, in the backseat, Jayci leans her tangled blonde locks enticingly in front of Caden until he yanks them, then shrieks and yells MOM CADEN IS PULLING MY HAIR! I sigh and feel fury alongside unkind words rise in my throat. They taste bitter coming out, and I berate myself for once again failing to act like the mom I wish I could be.
Sometimes, I cannot even conjure the hope of being a better mom. My sinfulness is too big, my attentions too stretched; my pride only comes before a fall. And once we get beyond the beginning here in our hood, cycles seem entrenched and behind every single door lining our streets, stories and problems loom. I get weary, and hope feels distant, perhaps non-existent.
But the thing I love most fiercely about hope is just how audacious it can be. Powerful and weak; tiny and huge; both/and.
When they are done shrieking in the backseat, Caden yells WOOK! He points out the window at the moon, barely a tiny round disc in a bright blue afternoon sky. Da moon follows us! He says it while forming his mouth into a matching O. I giggle and abandon any hope of explaining the moon’s ways, simply agreeing with his assessment of the smallish-sun-reflector following our trash-laden car with dogged determination.
Later that night, Adam finally gets home from work and I opt to let him wrangle the children into beds, offering kindly to drive Zack home. On the way back, I turn the music off and relish silence, the first I’ve heard in weeks. And I think about only-hopes. About barren places and desolate wildernesses, where the Creator-God hovers and creates hope; even, or perhaps especially, when we cannot.
I drive around the block to avoid going the wrong way down our one-way-street. Turning the corner on our street, I gasp to see the moon hanging low above our house. It glows orange, huge and swollen, casting a warm glow over even that darkest corner where prostitutes huddle and drug deals get passed.
Under the light of that pregnant moon, hope springs easy. But the same moon dangles small and bright during noon-time, when hope feels far too far. And the moon really only points us to the sun anyways. The source of all light and life, and of every hope. And so even when I don’t feel like it, I keep moving and praying; and hoping by the light of the moon.