Orpheus

I’m an optimist by nature. I always have been. I don’t recall a time where I have thoroughly given up on the future, felt completely stuck without options or without hope. I’ve always believed that we, collectively and as individuals, would find our way somehow. But I must admit that lately… I’ve had my moments.

And I’ve heard it all around me recently from people whom I never would have guessed would begin to lose their hope for the future. People who have always spoken kindly now speaking harshly or with bitterness and blame about their present situation.

It’s really not too hard to understand why we might turn to this. It’s easy to see how we might feel pessimism, fear, and even anger welling up- even for the strongest of optimists. There’s obviously the COVID crisis with no immediate end in sight. Add to that massive social unrest and threatening hurricanes. There’s an impending, contentious presidential election to look forward to in just a few months. Shrinking bank account balances. Wide-open future schedules. A dismal economic outlook. The list goes on…

We’re growing weary. We’re growing restless. We miss and mourn the world as we knew it before March 2020. We may have eaten through our savings. We may have missed important moments. We may be grieving the loss of a loved one. We worry about the physical and mental health of our kids, spouses, and ourselves. The adrenaline that pushed us through the first few months of this crisis has waned, and we can now see that this is likely to be a long-distance marathon versus a short sprint… and we’re already tired!

So, how do we keep ourselves moving forward in a positive direction when all we see ahead of us is more curves with no apparent end? How do we continue to find joy, success, peace, or even love in our day-to-day lives? How do we recapture our resilience and creativity? How do we find hope again? And again? And again?

Just like that: one day, one hour, one moment at a time. Without a better option, we must simply refuse to lose our faith and our capacity to love. Unlike Orpheus, we must stand strong, look forward, and refuse to turn around and lose hope by looking behind.

The story of Orpheus comes from an ancient Greek myth about a man who played the lyre beautifully. He falls in love and marries a lovely woman, Eurydice, but the marriage is doomed, as predicted by Hymen, the god of marriage.

A short time after this prophecy, Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies instantly and descends into the underworld. Orpheus is heartbroken and mourns Eurydice so passionately with his lyre that both humans and gods are moved as they hear the song and understand the depth of his sorrow and grief.

Orpheus decides to attempt his own journey into the underworld in the hopes of returning with his wife. As he descends, he plays so beautifully that he attracts the god of the underworld, Hades, who tells him that he can take Eurydice back to the real world under one condition: She will have to follow him while walking out to the light from the caves of the underworld, but he would have to trust that she will follow, and he should not look back at her before coming out to the light, or he will lose her forever. If Orpheus is patient and has trust and faith in Eurydice, he might have her back again by his side.

Thinking this is a simple task for a man like him and believing in the strength of the love and faithfulness of his wife, he is delighted. He thanks the gods and turns to ascend back into the world. But along the way, he is unable to hear Eurydice’s footsteps behind him and begins to fear that the gods have fooled him or that Eurydice will let him down. Slowly through the journey back, he becomes increasingly impatient and begins to doubt his wife’s love and with only a few more steps to go to the exit, he loses his faith completely and turns to see Eurydice in the form of a silent shadow right behind him, there all along. Before he can exit, she is whisked back among the dead, now trapped in Hades forever.

If we entered this strange period of life a few months ago as an optimist, we are probably now having an experience much like Orpheus. We are on a journey toward the light of a reinvented and reclaimed life, but we must do so by looking straight ahead, blindly trusting ourselves and an inevitable positive outcome for which we have no guideposts or reassurances. And like Orpheus, we will not likely make it to our destination by looking back. We will not make it if we lose our patience, trust, or faith. We must fight the loss of our hope in a future we cannot see. We must be vigilant about choosing love over hate in a world that makes us angry. We must resist the urge to judge harshly those with whom we disagree. We must continue to be optimistic even in the light of strong evidence to the contrary.

One of my favorite songwriters, Sara Barielles, wrote a song entitled Orpheus as a prayer for herself at a time when she was feeling lost. She used the same ancient myth as her muse to urge us to try and find ourselves amidst the chaos… to say out loud, “We will not give up on love today.” To try and somehow make meaning out of the poison in this place and to remember that our destinies are written in the stars and that even if the bottom drops out, we will hope that our love was someone else’s solid ground.

What is our alternative? Despair, pessimism, fear, ugliness, hatefulness? No. I’ll not give up on love today. I’ll take it day by day, minute by minute, if I have to.

We’ve come this far. Don’t turn around now. Don’t give up your faith and hope. Don’t lose patience and don’t forsake love for anger, bitterness, and harsh judgment.

This morning and every morning, say out loud with me, “I will not turn around. I will not look back. And, I will not give up on love today.”

 

“Orpheus”

Come by the fire, lay down your head
My love, I see you’re growing tired so set the bad day by the bed
And rest a while
Your eyes can close
You don’t have to do a thing but listen to me sing
I know you miss the world
The one you knew
The one where everything made sense because you didn’t know the truth
That’s how it works
Till the bottom drops out
And you learn we’re all just hunters seeking solid ground

Don’t stop trying to find me here amidst the chaos
Though I know it’s blinding
There’s a way out
Say out loud
We will not give up on love now
No fear
Don’t you turn like Orpheus
Just stay here
Hold me in the dark and when the day appears
We’ll say, We did not give up on love today

I’ll show you good, restore your faith
I’ll try and somehow make a meaning of the poison in this place
Convince you love, don’t breathe it in
You were written in the stars that we are swimming in
And it has no name, no guarantee
It’s just the promise of a day I know that some may never see
But that’s enough
If the bottom drops out
I hope my love was someone else’s solid ground

Don’t stop trying to find me here amidst the chaos
Though I know it’s blinding
There’s a way out
Say out loud
We will not give up on love now
No fear
Don’t you turn like Orpheus
Just stay here
Hold me in the dark and when the day appears
We’ll say
We did not give up on love today
We’ll say
We did not give up on love today

“Don’t look back. You’re not going that way.”

~Mary Engelbriet