“Hope is passion for what is possible”. Søren Kierkegaard
I am looking into the New Year with a hopeful gaze. As a glass-half-full person, I grab for ribbons of hope rather than entangle myself in webs of despair. Moving into a new year and a new decade I ask myself, what gives me hope?
Greta Thunburg, the 16-year-old woman who withstands social criticism and personal challenges to fight for our endangered earth, gives me hope. She is joined by many young people across the world clamoring for climate awareness, insisting we recognize the huge problems we are leaving for the young and those not yet born. Sometimes it takes a child to see with clarity what is obvious. I remember my then five-year-old sister, the baby of our family, being the impetus for my mother to quit smoking. My sister had not yet learned that we didn’t dare ask our parents to change. Greta is asking us to change. Her bold bravery gives me hope.
I found hope at the funeral of an 87-year-old man. The youngest of his five children told the early story of a surly and mean father who drank to excess, adding vodka to his thermos of coffee each morning. She went on to describe his ensuing 40 years of sobriety and service. After retirement he engaged with young men in treatment, telling his addiction-to-recovery story, a living example of hope. Next a granddaughter shared her memories of a grandfather whose love overflowed to each of his grandchildren. The man this granddaughter knew was not the same man his daughter had grown up with. His transformation story gives me hope.
News that Liberian immigrants will be eligible to apply for permanent status after living among us for the last 30 years on Deferred Enforced Departure immigration status gives me hope. Displaced by civil war in their country of origin, they have made a home here. Many care for our elderly and infirm, support our communities and own businesses. Their persistence, and our welcoming, gives me hope.
My neighbors give me hope as we reach across generations and culture to create community. We celebrate birthdays, provide backup when parents run late for kids’ buses, cover mail, take care of pets and do snow duty when someone is out of town or ill. We gather for a book group with a cross section of ages from mid 30s to early 80s. My house sits on the corner of the block where buses come from four schools to gather and release children, leaving a trail of laughter as they come and go. We are choosing to live interdependently. That gives me hope.
Miracles of modern medicine give me hope. In my lifetime many diseases that were once death sentences are now cured or contained in chronic form. I am thinking of AIDS for one, but several manifestations of cancer fit this category as well. A close friend has lived with AIDS for 35 years. He has had several near encounters with death but survived to the next drug discovery that has kept him alive until the discovery after that. As is often the case, the drug came with a cost. In his case, it was a kidney. An altruistic donor provided him with a kidney ten years ago and another lease on life. At the age of 67, he leads a fairly normal life, supported by pharmaceutical miracles. That people gratuitously donate organs, blood and bone marrow gives me hope, along with the medical advances that continue to eradicate deadly diseases.
Another thing that gives me hope is that so many people have been touched by the movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Fred Rogers’ warmth and sincerity influenced several generations of children. He dared to demonstrate kindness, to talk about difficult subjects, to respectfully engage with children. Adults, not given to sentimentality, leave the movie theater dabbing their eyes. That so many of us are moved by this genuine and gentle man with his message of unconditional positive regard gives me hope.
My hope is fueled by a sense of transcendence. There are ideals, values and truths that cross cultures, geography and time. Our country was founded on the ideal of freedom for all. We continue to grapple with who “all” includes as we grow in consciousness of what it means to be a citizen with rights and responsibilities and who belongs. Throughout our history we have grown toward inclusion. I find this hopeful. Bill W. built a network of hope out of the truth of his own brokenness. He knew the devastation of alcoholism personally. He discovered a way to manage the disease through recognizing his own powerlessness, turning his will and his life over to the care of God, claiming his defects of character and seeking ways to repair relationships. He did it with the support of fellow alcoholics. Once he experienced the freedom of recovery, he brought his spiritual message of hope to others. His hope, truth and values are celebrated in local meeting rooms all over the world. Some things are bigger than our individual lives.
Anniversaries can give me a shot of hope. I look back to see from where we have come, amazed at how we got here. Fifty years ago, we landed on the moon. Less than ten years earlier, John Kennedy’s goal seemed like a fantasy. Yet on July 20, 1969, two people stepped onto the surface of the moon, changing forever our relationship with outer space.
Thirty years ago, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, freeing families to re-unite and re-form a united Germany where all could participate in the promise of prosperity. I could not have imagined that such a radical change would happen in my lifetime. It did. When outlandish dreams become reality, I am filled with hope.
Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”
These spurts of hope give us the courage to change the present and to believe in the future. When I see what can be done, I can turn my passion to what may not be impossible after all.
What gives you hope as we move into 2020? Hope expands in community. We imagine more fiercely when we imagine together. We dream more spaciously arm in arm.
Happy Hope-filled New Year!
Mary Lou Logsdon is a Spiritual Director and retreat leader in the Twin Cities. She can be reached at logsdon.marylou at gmail.com.