The Elegance of Hope

Like a tired child, America is having a meltdown. Already overwhelmed by a pandemic, racial injustice, climate disaster, gun violence, political division, and inflation, an unprovoked attack on a free country by a frightening bully has sent her to the floor sobbing breathlessly. She needs an adult, someone like you, to pick her up and soothe her with a lullaby of hope.

Speaking of hope in times like these may seem excessively optimistic and naive, but Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not to try.” Where can we find hope enough to calm ourselves, let alone ease others?

First, we can find hope in our country’s history. America has pulled through many times of darkness. In his book, The Soul of America, author Jon Meacham reminds us that periods of public dispiritedness are not new and offers reassurance that they are survivable. Through war, inequality, depression, and disaster, our nation has marched steadily forward to a hopeful chorus graced by what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”

Secondly, we can find hope in our global citizenry. The past several days, we’ve seen ordinary Ukrainian citizens show immeasurable courage, selflessness, and fortitude. We’ve watched thousands of Russians take great risk to protest their authoritarian government. We’ve witnessed people in neighboring countries welcome more than a million desperate Ukrainians. Every day, all over the world, good people work tirelessly for the well-being of others, and good people always bring out the good in people.

Finally, we can summon hope within ourselves. Emily Dickinson wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” Her well-known poem celebrates the human spirit’s capacity for hope. Think of the times you mustered hope to get through a difficult challenge. Facing our personal and shared trials from a place of wisdom and sanguinity offers inspiration to those around us.

With everything that’s going on right now, we may want to throw ourselves on the floor in an all-out temper tantrum fueled by anxiety, anger, and fear. But we are adults, and children are watching. We must choose to face our struggles with strength and elegance, while bravely humming a song of hope. §

“Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.” ~Helen Keller

A Poem that Spreads Hope (Not Germs)

 

feather

Long before the Coronavirus became part of our vocabulary, I planned to write this week about Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope” is the Thing with Feathers. I thought it a perfect poem to usher us through the last days of winter and into a lovely spring. Little did I realize the Belle of Amherst might help us find hope during a pandemic.

In this well-known poem, Dickinson uses a beautiful extended metaphor to compare hope to a selfless little bird perched in the soul of every human being. The poet reminds us hope and optimism are positive qualities we can all summon, especially during adversity.

In the first stanza, Dickinson creates the imagery of a bird endlessly singing a song of no words, just the purest form of hope. She reminds us in the second stanza that hard times don’t dissuade the little bird. In fact, that’s when the song is the sweetest. The pronoun I appears for the first time in the third stanza, revealing that hope helped her survive the tests and trials of her own life.

Dickinson is often thought of as a hermit, but perhaps she was practicing a healthy form of social distancing. She spent most of her adult life at her family home enjoying nature, writing poetry, and nurturing a close relationship with her siblings.

It seems we can all help stop the spread of the Coronavirus by following her lead and hunkering down for a little while. Maybe we can find time to relish the pleasures of home, watch spring miraculously unfurl, and hear the universal song of hope Emily Dickinson wrote about more than a century ago. §

(No. 314) “Hope” is the Thing with Feathers by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
 
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
 
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me. §