There are beavers in the stream which runs by my walking trail. I saw one last fall. I was walking, and there she was, swimming. She was so much bigger than a muskrat. I held my breath and ventured into the grasses off the trail, toward the stream, to try to get a closer look. She dove under the water and was gone.

I hesitated to share news of this sighting. Who would believe it? The trail is not in the backwoods. There are many houses within sight of the stream, and I share “my” trail with cyclists, dogs, parents with strollers, children, and senior citizens. And if they did believe it, would the city park authorities allow beavers to build dams, harvest trees, and reroute the stream? They might view beavers as a nuisance. I was not going to be the one to turn them in.

So after a few futile attempts to discover her lair, I more or less forgot about the beaver, and told myself it must have been a muskrat. But recently I took a short cut which passes closer to the stream. And that’s how I happened to see the chopped off saplings, fresh wood chips, and a felled tree, six inches in diameter, the stump of which bore telltale gnaw marks. This time my exploration paid off. I’m not telling where, but I found the beavers’ lodge.

Beavers in the neighborhood lift my spirit. They give me hope. Emily Dickinson says “Hope is the thing with feathers,” but in this case, hope has thick lustrous fur, ideal for year-round swimming, and a bottom-heavy physique that could never fly.

Spring blossoms also give me hope. We had about eight inches of heavy wet snow last week which took down branches and bent over trees, especially those which had leafed out. As the snow began melting, I noticed what I thought were dots of snow on the little tree we planted a few weeks ago. Then I looked more closely, and discovered that the “snow” was actually delicate blossoms on slender branches. Defying the snowstorm, this twig of a tree stood strong. And if it could produce such beauty this year, imagine its potential for the future.

Sometimes I meet with people who are going through a difficult time and experiencing a loss of hope in their lives. I try to refrain from telling them to look for beavers and blossoms. That would be trite and insensitive, to assume that what fills my hope chest will satisfy the emptiness another person might be feeling. No, hope is less of a goal and more of a gift. Hope arrives as a surprise, an unanticipated reminder that the world is abundant in goodness and grace, that all is not lost. Hope is intensely personal and individual. St. Paul wrote, “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us—because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5) We can seek hope, and practice hope, and embrace hope, but ultimately, hope is a gift from God.

So my prayer for those on the edge of despair is that they will notice some gift of hope each day, an unexpected shaft of light which intrudes on the darkness and invites movement toward the light. My hope is that they will have the courage to accept the invitation and move. And by doing so, receive the grace of hope renewed.

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