Hope in a Bottle

Hope in a Bottle

From A 4th Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Hope in a Bottle

They say a person needs just these things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.

Tom Bodett

I truly believe everyone in their lifetime comes face-to-face with a bit of magic. It’s the kind of magic that reminds you of one single word that can be easily forgotten—hope.

One blustery 1992 day as I walked along the shoreline, I watched waves roll in from a spate of thunderstorms. Trash lined the shore, along with large mounds of seaweed.

I don’t know what made it catch my eye. But atop those smelly mounds, a large Canadian Club bottle was perched upright. Inside, I spotted a piece of paper—a damp slip curled with lettering on it. I clutched the bottle under my arm and got the message out. It said: Return to E. L. Cannon, Hollywood, Florida, with a note and your address and receive $20.00 U.S.

I wrote to one E. L. Cannon and learned that he and his wife had tossed the bottle from a cruise ship about 100 miles off Los Angeles after coming up from the Panama Canal. Soon my husband, Jim and I became pen pals with Ed and Mary, who turned out to be delightful, retired world travelers who regularly cruised the planet. To this day, although they are in their 80s, I still have images of them dancing across the ship’s deck.

We began exchanging short letters. During this time, I read a magazine article and grew intrigued by the country of Belize. I dreamed about its lush tropical jungles, its jaguars, its hundreds of palm-lined cays—islands—peppered inside the second longest barrier reef in the world. I liked that some of the country’s descendants had come from a line of British and Scottish pirates, who once hid among the cays that laced the aqua-green Caribbean. I shared my dream with Jim, and we decided to go the next year. We collected information and saved money. On a lark, I wrote the Cannons and asked if they’d been there.

In response, a huge envelope arrived and out fell a pile of photos: Mary and Ed standing on a pier in San Pedro, Ambergris Cay, the largest island. Mary posing proudly with their fishing guide, Luz, who was holding up a giant barracuda. The Cannons had been visiting San Pedro three times a year for more than two d e cad e s. This seemed so ironic that we agreed Belize would be the perfect place to meet. We planned our trip for February, and decided to meet at the only hotel where the Cannons stayed because its Mayan owner Celi was like a daughter.

Meeting absolute strangers in this way seemed remarkable, but that’s only the beginning. In late March, I drove home from my reporting job when I noticed a cloud fogging my right eye. I lost about 25 percent of my vision. By week’s end, I was totally blind in that eye. My vision returned in a few days, but in mid-June, after some tests, the doctors delivered the news that I had multiple sclerosis. This neurological disease is unpredictable and affects each individual so differently, anything could happen— from tingling to numbness, from blindness to total paralysis. No person reacts the same way to MS, an illness that’s like a short-circuit to the brain.

I went into a tailspin—became angry, depressed and moody. I was exhausted every day. I dragged myself to work and quit writing the Cannons. I decided not to go to Belize. We hadn’t saved enough money, anyway. Four months went by, and finally, I responded to some of the Cannons’ letters. I told them about the multiple sclerosis and that we wouldn’t join them after all.

Then came a cold and unforgettable November night. When I came home, I smelled the familiar aroma of garlic and vegetables, and Jim was cooking. I was feeling pretty miserable when I spotted a yellow envelope on the table. Jim looked up from the stove with a large smile and said: “Read it.”

Dear Diana and Jim:

We received your letter the day we left for Florida and we were very sorry to hear about your illness.. .. It so happens we have a niece who has atravel agency in a suburb of Cleve land , and she has arrange d for two round-trip tickets from Los Angeles to San Pedro (Ambergris Cay, Belize) for you. They will befree—no charge—and will be just the me dicine you need : a week or so in San Pedro, Belize .

Congratulations!You have won the San Pedrolotto!

I looked at my husband. “Let’s go!” he shouted happily. But somehow, I just couldn’t accept such a gesture. I was raised to give, not take. We agreed I would talk to my father because we were close and he always gave good advice. The prospect of talking to him, however, made us cringe. We knew the trip was doomed. My father was a man who loved to give to people, but whose pride wouldn’t allow him to accept such an offer.

But my father said, “The Cannons wanted to do this or they would never have offered. You should go and consider it one of the greatest gifts anybody has ever given you.” I was stunned. What he said was so true. This was a gift—a gift of hope.

And it became one that I would cling to and remember for the rest of my life. Two months before our trip, five days before Christmas, my father died. It was two days after the last time I saw him, and again, I was swallowed by a deep depression. The only thing I had left in my life, I believed, was the gift.

When we arrived in the sandy streets of San Pedro, we met the Cannons on the hotel porch they call “Happy Corner.” Eddie and I listened to the waves as they roared over the reef. I talked about my father, and he talked about his. I was in the right place for healing—surrounded by an emerald sea where I would snorkel for the first time in my life and see the ocean’s underwater treasures: deep caverns, fish of brilliant colors, seahorses and schools of squid.

Eddie told me something he lived by: “In this life, always give yourself something to look forward to.”

And I have been doing that ever since. In 1995, we returned to the island for a reunion with the Cannons. We shared the bottle story with other tourists who came to “Happy Corner” and toasted the Cannons.

When we arrived home, we received letters from everyone we met. They all wanted to remember the bottle story. I can’t thank the Cannons enough.

Their message in a bottle had returned my hope. And still does to this day.

Diana L. Chapman

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