Hope is one of those words that baffles me. It’s certainly part of the discourse around how to adjust to the upcoming presidency of our Perpetrator-in-Chief, but what does it really mean, particularly in that context? I can start with the Merriam-Webster definition, that hope is “the feeling of wanting something to happen and thinking that it could happen.” But I’ve heard other references to hope that may apply as well. The wise Jesuit mystic Anthony deMello spoke at an event I attended many years ago, and I remember being struck by a statement he made: “True life begins when all hope ends.” It was a new idea for me and it seemed to make sense. If a person were able to stop hoping about something in the future, wouldn’t s/he then be able to live totally in the present? Maybe that’s what needs to happen. Maybe if we’re more involved in our communities and in local politics as President Obama recommended in his Farewell Speech, and we deal with the realities at hand, as for example the volunteer movement Counter/Positive (www.counterpositive.com) is doing now, the immediacy of our focus will be more powerful and the future will take care of itself.
It’s hard for me to hope for that though because of the man who’ll be inaugurated this week. David Brooks had a brilliant op-ed in the January 3, 2017 issue of the New York Times: The Snapchat Presidency of Donald Trump. And brilliant though it may be, it ends with speculation as to what has been my deep down gut-wrenching fear all along – Trump’s presidency may lead to nuclear war. David Brooks closes his op-ed with the sting of sarcasm. “Happy New Year!” he says and, well, given the content of news bulletins about Congressman John Lewis’ decision not to attend the inauguration and our Perpetrator-in-Chief’s reactions to John Lewis’s rationale, the start of 2017 is particularly dark and disappointing.
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness,” said Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and “We must accept finite disappointment but never loose infinite hope” advised Martin Luther King, Jr. These men are talking about endurance. Joan Chittister, in her current weekly online newsletter says this: “Those who are willing to endure when endurance looks insane, has no hope of prevailing, consumes everything else in its path, are those who know a greater truth, a more promising hope, a truer way to wholeness than the world around them has to offer…That kind of endurance holds on to the divine in life even when life itself gives in to making gods of gold in deserts of sand.” Certainly hope, courage, and endurance are intimately connected.
Years ago, while enduring a difficult season of my life, I came across a perspective on hope that appeals to me now as much as it did then. It was a quote by the Czech writer, philosopher, political dissident and statesman Vaclav Havel:”Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” And finally I return to Joan Chittister’s previously mentioned newsletter, where, referring to the current and immediate future of our country, she advises that “each of us must speak up, speak out, and speak for justice and peace at every card club, every town meeting, every private party.” That will not be easy and it will require courage and endurance . But her instruction makes a lot of sense to me, and encourages me to hope. So does the reality that 200,00o people are predicted to attend the anti-Trump protest in Washington DC this weekend and thousands more will be marching in cities and towns across our nation.