“Hope is the real magic, child.” Brimstone, a character from Laini Taylor’s fantasy novel Daughter of Smoke And Bone, spoke these words to the protagonist, Karou. She had been through quite an ordeal, and her belief in magic was faltering.
Brimstone’s words resonated with me as I recalled times in my life when hope was precisely the magic I needed, even if I didn’t see the results immediately.
As a teenager, I experienced a glorious period when my juvenile arthritis decided to take a break from attacking my joints. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to do things that had been beyond my physical capability before. I had begun to desire a more “normal” life, and now I had my chance.
Most of my friends at school were cheerleaders. Since I was enjoying the least amount of pain I had ever felt, I decided that I would like to join them. Even though my arthritis was in remission, I still had residual joint damage that caused pain and some limitations.
But I persevered. I pushed myself hard and ended up being able to do splits, cartwheels and round offs just like everyone else. Even the cheer coach was amazed at my ability to bounce back from more than a decade of degenerative illness. She encouraged me to attend tryouts when school started back.
There was just one little problem: I couldn’t jump very high. And that was a key requirement. Since my arthritis had focused most of its attention on my knees and ankles, I couldn’t get the bounce I needed. My “springs” were broken.
After the first tryout and getting the news that I didn’t make the team, I shook off the disappointment and refused to give up hope. I continued to strengthen my muscles and maintain my flexibility. I celebrated the fact that I could do things with my body that I never imagined would be possible. I practiced and practiced and practiced.
I participated in quite a few more tryouts over the next couple of years. I can’t remember how many exactly. Each time, I dealt with the same results. I had put so much effort into overcoming the effects of my illness. I was frustrated that I had to work harder than people with “normal” bodies but still didn’t achieve my goal.
Looking back on this time in my life, I’m grateful that I never gave up hope. Granted, I also never made the cheer squad, but that part is not even relevant to me now. The hope I’d carried with me all those years gave me a gift that was better than being a cheerleader and one that would serve me well even today.
All that muscle-strengthening and flexibility-enhancing activity helped prepare my muscles, tendons and ligaments surrounding my joints for the time when my remission would end at age 19. I hadn’t realized until then that something good came from those years of hard work that I felt led to nothing but defeat.
Those stronger muscles also allowed me to bounce back more quickly from knee replacement surgery. They never forgot what they could do, even when I’d been in so much pain that I couldn’t use them fully. Their memory is stellar.
And then when fibromyalgia made its appearance in my forties, that little kernel of hope in my mind and strength in my connective tissues helped me to rise once again. It was as if my muscles were saying to me, “When you feel like moving again, we’ll be here to support you. No hurry, though. We aren’t going anywhere.”
I am so glad the cheer coach continued to encourage me, even if it was what some would consider false hope. Maybe she did believe I could jump high enough one day. Maybe she knew that I wouldn’t ever make the team but couldn’t bear to tell me the truth. Her reasons are not important.
Hope did provide me with my own version of magic, and it didn’t involve pleated skirts and pom poms. Every time I’ve been sidelined by chronic illness, I’ve known for sure that one day I would triumph again. I can’t think of a greater “magical” power to possess!
If you are having one of your darkest days filled with pain and suffering, you do still have that spark of hope. It may be buried deep inside you and may be a tiny little ember that is difficult to locate. But it’s there.
If you are reading this post, it means that you wish for better days. You are looking for answers and support because your hope is alive somewhere. Find it and nurture it.
Your hope may not lead exactly where you want it to just as mine didn’t lead to being a cheerleader. Instead, it led me to something even better. I know my pain would be more intense today if I hadn’t worked so hard back then to strengthen my body.
So don’t give up if your hope initially leads to disappointment, because it may be preparing you for bigger and better things.
Every time I rebound from a flare-up and my muscles remember how strong and flexible they really are, I am reminded of how strong I am. Hope has equaled magic in my life, and I thank Laini Taylor and her character, Brimstone, for bringing this to my attention once again.