In 1861, Emily Dickinson wrote,

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.

I’ve taught this poem to my students countless times, but never really understood the true meaning of it. I’ve taught my kids the meaning as lauded by academians – the idea that hope is always something we can depend on, even in the worst of situations. However, that has always seemed rather trite to me and probably to my students too.

In recent days, the first line has played over and over in my head. It started when I saw, yet again, a post on Facebook about how one should never give up hope because life will always get better. At first, I was like, “Uh, WRONG! My life will never be better than it was when Peyton was here.” But, I couldn’t seem to get the idea of hope out of my head…and then this poem jumped in there and decided to stay for a while. So, now, I’m rethinking what hope means to me.

Without a doubt, I have no hope of my life going back to the way it was before I lost Peyton. Slowly, and painfully, I’m coming to accept that. I’m not all the way there yet, but I’m closer than I was 6 months ago. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my moments when I rage and scream at God for his most unfair act, but even those seem to be getting farther apart. What’s taken that place is what I now recognize as a glimmer of hope. Not for my life to be better than it was, but for my life to have some meaning.

After Peyton died, I felt completely lost. I had no direction and thought that my life was over too. Then, rather suddenly, Kindness Matters sprouted wings and learned to fly, much like the Bird in Emily’s poem. In a year, what started as a little Facebook page has turned into a new mission for me. I now see that, although I’m stumbling along, I’m finding my footing and I now see what Kindness Matters can do. And let me tell you, KM can do BIG things. With over 22,000 Facebook followers and having brought Peyton’s story to over 20 schools, I’ve been able to connect with people in ways I never thought possible. And each time, my heart heals just a tiny bit.

Almost daily, I get messages that tell me about how a parent has shared Peyton’s story with their child, or how a parent brought Kindness Matters to their child’s teacher and now the Challenges are being used in the school, or how people who may have lost a child of their own somehow find courage in what I’m doing (that one still floors me – I am most certainly NOT brave). After each school presentation, I’ve been contacted by at least one student who not only listened to what I had to say, but really HEARD me. And because of Peyton’s story, they’re trying to change their ways. Or they’re realizing that they are valuable and worthy individuals.

So, I guess what I’m getting at is that I have a new understanding of hope. It has always perched “within my soul,” I just had to let the storm pass before I could see it again. And even if the gale springs up again (which I’m sure it will), it can’t abash the strength of hope. And, as Emily said, it will never ask me for anything in return.