“Hope is something that can’t be taken.”
I still cannot fully explain where these words came from, but they would be a guiding force in a desperate time. As I sat on my back porch with an acoustic guitar and a spiral notebook, the world outside had shut down. In March 2020, COVID-19 spread to the city I live in. A shelter-in-place order was issued in my state and local business slowed to a halt. What would follow has been one of the strangest periods of time any of us have ever experienced.
With some extra time on my hands, I decided to start writing an acoustic album. It had actually been several years since I had written a single song. But after experiencing some of the hardest years of my life, I felt like I had a lot to say. In particular, I felt like I needed to write about hope. Below is a behind-the-scenes preview of the beginning of that challenge as I wrote and recorded the first song for the album. It’s part of my series “Diary of a Starving Guitarist” which follows my journey as a musician in 2020. Check it out!
Boy, I picked a heck of a year to make a video journal! I have to be honest, I have struggled throughout my life to be hopeful and optimistic. That’s part of the reason I decided to write an album about it. I wanted to force myself to do something that I knew deep down I needed; to find hope during a time when we can’t see it.
I could not have picked a better time to take on this challenge. I had no idea how relevant the subject would be when I began writing the album. Originally the album was meant to document what we all experienced during two months of social isolation due to COVID-19. It was also meant to help me process the aftermath of my divorce in a healthy way. As if those problems weren’t enough.
I’d like note that the album itself is not a political album. I simply wanted to capture a journal of what we’re all facing, regardless of where we stand on the various issues we’re currently faced with. Little did I know that COVID-19 was only the beginning. Before I finished writing the album, the entire nation would be stunned by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. As we all tried to process the tragedy, people began to respond in a wide variety of ways.
Some participated in peaceful protests and marches that will hopefully lead to some positive conversations about our future. Others started riots. Local businesses were destroyed, looted and burned. Over 80 businesses in my hometown of Indianapolis were damaged during riots. I saw disturbing videos on Facebook of business owners being murdered in the streets. On the local news I saw a video of a man with a gun open firing on the police just two blocks away from my old house in Kansas. Every morning when I scrolled through my social media feed, I felt as if someone had stacked a bunch of weights on my chest. I’m betting I’m not the only one who felt this way. We slowly began to realize that our world is far less stable than we once thought.
I have never lived through a time when it has been this hard to see hope. At this moment in time, our future no longer looks the same. But when I sat down to write songs for the new album, I knew that I could not approach songwriting like I had in the past. This was not the time to vent like I used to when I wrote lyrics. We’re too fragile right now. In fact, I’m too fragile right now. It’s time for me to take a good hard look at hope and acknowledge it exists.
And so, when I sat down to write lyrics for the very first song on the album titled Redemption Part 1, the words I needed to hear floated into my mind. It felt like the words weren’t mine; like they came from someplace else. I don’t even know where they came from. Maybe it was God. This is what I wrote down in my notebook that day:
“Even when the future’s fading… there’s another future shaping. Even though my world is shaking… hope is something that can’t be taken.”
Every day those words take on a deeper meaning. Every time I turned on the news and the world seemed to be spiraling, I pressed into those lyrics that floated into my head that day. The words are based on a philosophical and spiritual concept. There are times (like right now) when it becomes hard for us to see hope at all. The question remains though; is hope actually lost, or are we just unable to see it? Well, that depends…
The answer is dependent on where hope actually comes from. There have been many times in my life when my path was blocked and it felt like someone or something had taken away hope. But what if human beings don’t actually have the power to do that? What if hope comes from some other source? Is it possible that hope is not a human concept at all? What if hope comes from God?
If this is true, then nobody can actually take hope away from us. If hope is not a human concept, then neither humans, viruses, divorces, broken relationships or politics can take it away from you. It exists independently of the storm in front of us. I don’t know if you’re a spiritual person or not, but this is a question worth exploring; what exactly is hope, and where does it come from? The answer could change the way we view the storm that we’re all currently in.
I have thought about this concept almost every day since I wrote those words in late March. I find those lyrics to be exactly what I need to hear right now, so much so that I decided to reiterate them again on the album’s closing song Redemption Part II. For me, it was a way to start and finish my journal of these stressful times with a new focus on hope. I don’t think any of us can continue living the way we did before 2020, myself included. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Maybe we can learn to hope in the middle of the storm, because the storm doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. Take care!
Nathan (aka Vandarth)
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