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Keep hoping machine running

by Gretchen Lieberum

It’s New Year’s Eve. My husband and I are at our friends’ house with our kids and a few other friends and their kids. The adults stand in the dining room, chatting, laughing and drinking as the kids watch A Charlie Brown Christmas in the living room. I attempt to join in, but mostly I’m just drinking.


Gretchen and her Mom

I am in my grief bubble, observing the other humans in the room with both mild disgust and deep envy. Wishing I were still one of them, and wondering, doubting, if I ever will be again. It’s been two months since my Mom passed away. Two months since I watched my beautiful, vibrant, proud, infuriatingly difficult mother waste away to nothing. Two months since my own private apocalypse began.

My friends are talking resolutions. Aside from “try not to weep constantly,” I can’t imagine what mine would be. I’m having a tough enough time just getting through each day; thinking about the year ahead feels unfathomable. All right, I say to myself, it’s New Year’s… I need to get it together. I want to be a part of the festivities, to behave as un-zombie like as possible. I attempt to smile, stretching the sides of my mouth in an imitation of mirth, but fear that my smile looks more like a creepy grimace, like a clown from a horror film. Eventually I stop trying.

Pretty soon I’m fairly hammered, but not in a festive, fun way. Just in a bone-achingly tired way. I feel like it’s 3:00am. I check my phone… it’s 10pm.

I wander away from the adults and lay down with my daughter on the sofa. My son is already asleep, breathing softly inside a small, plastic tent filled with pillows. I watch him for a moment before picking up my phone and clicking on to Facebook for some mindless distraction. I’m absently scrolling, glancing, barely paying attention to what I’m reading, until something catches my eye. A friend has posted a list of Woody Guthrie’s New Year’s Eve resolutions from the year 1942. Intrigued, I click on the list and read.

Work more and better.

Wash teeth if any.

Drink scant if any.

Learn people better.

Dream good.

Help win war – beat fascism.

Love everybody.

Wake up and fight.

 Then, I get to the following:

Keep hoping machine running.

I read it again.

Keep hoping machine running.

 I turn off my phone.

Maybe this could be my New Year’s resolution. My one and my only. Because if I can manage to get that one thing back… hope… maybe I’ll be OK.

As an artist (a singer and writer to be exact), I know what it means to have to fight to keep your sense of hope. After all, isn’t any art created an act of hope in itself? A little spark against the void, against meaninglessness? Against self-doubt and the indifference of the world around you?

And though nothing can really compare to the loss of a loved one, an artistic loss/disappointment/failure can be extremely powerful and difficult to deal with, especially if you’ve put your vulnerable heart on the line in the process. You know that feeling when your deal falls through after years of work and energy and love and you think, that’s it, I’m done with this shit. Done! Perhaps I’ll go back to school and learn a marketable trade… like welding.

But then, you keep going. Because you have to. Because, despite your most pessimistic, and let’s face it, realistic sensibilities, there is still that little flame of hope that burns in you. So once again, you get up and keep fighting, breathing that flame back to roaring life. No matter how many times I’ve tried to give up, I just can’t seem to manage it. I keep pushing and moving forward until I’ve made it through. Maybe, I’ll make it through this, too.

It is now March. The pain of my mother’s death is still there, hanging around me like a thick, grey fog… but I’m starting to see the sun through the clouds. I’m laughing with my children again, singing again, beginning to compose music again. And now I’m sitting here, writing this. Just trying to keep my hoping machine running one more day.

Gretchen Lieberum

About Gretchen Lieberum

Gretchen Lieberum is a singer, a writer, and a mother of two. She is also the greatest rapper in the history of rap itself (no she isn’t).

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