In Service to Hope: a letter to Jonathan

Dear Jonathan, you are writing strongly about the hardest stuff:

self-doubt, mistrust, hopelessness

I can feel my own self unravel on days when I’m blue.

A train of questions pulls on the thread that weaves me together —

what’s the point?

Why am I doing this?

Why carve this stone, much less polish it?

Why do I even care?

Wouldn’t it be easier if I just…?

Then Esperanza will walk over to me and nicker,

clearly asking for a scratch. I walk over,

reach through the barbed wire, and respond to her request.

She obliges by moving the itchy parts of her body closer

so I can reach them. If I don’t pick up on where she wants a scritch,

she points with her nose.

She flows inside my mind telepathically.

When I finally get the message and scratch her belly,

she reaches her head over the fence and twizzles my back

with her strong and dexterous lips—

we are engaged in act of mutual grooming.

In those moments, the unraveling questions stop.

Maybe I am simply here, still alive on this fragile planet,

to provide a service to my horse.

Maybe polishing a stone is an act of sanity, of hope.

Later, when it gets too hot, I come inside and sit at this desk

and open your letter, I read about your life,

and the lives of all my incarcerated students,

and how hard it is for you to keep your threads from unraveling, 

to keep hope alive even in prison where, as you write,

“hope is considered contraband.”

All of you wish me well on my cancer journey.

You remark on my courage and commitment

to continue to teach as long as the fates allow.

But I think, at the very least,

the exchange goes both ways,

because after reading your work,

I end up feeling stronger, less unraveled, more hopeful,

willing to see myself through another day.

I think I might be getting the better part of the deal.

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