“The Essence of Hope”
by Lincoln Holmes
Hope. I hope so. I hope you will. I hope we can. That person gives me hope. That’s what I hope for. I hope you can help. “Hope” is a word heard in many places and situations.
We hear about hope from the pulpit. We have in recent years frequently heard politicians speak about hope. “Hope” is a word used to express aspiration, to speak of longings, to speak about fears, to seek help and to seek inspiration.
We commonly speak of hope in a way which makes it essentially synonymous with expectation. Dictionaries, which reflect how we understand and use words, show us this and are consistent in doing so. The Oxford English Dictionary (1980) defines hope as “expectation of something desired.” The American Heritage Dictionary (1973) defines hope as “expectation, confidence.” Webster’s New World Dictionary (2004) defines hope as “expectation accompanied by desire.” Hope, however, often arises at times and in places where adversity has been met and expectations are not high. It is at times and places when and where it is most needed that hope often arises and strengthens those who face hardship. Hope has this power precisely because it is not based on expectation. Expectation is a unitary and exclusive mode of approaching the surrounding environment. Hope, in contrast, rests on a foundation of antithesis, the dialectic of possibility and limitation. Hope recognizes finitude and limitation, yet with and within these boundaries affirms the power to move forward in time and to create. With the affirmation of this power, hope is not just a mode of being in the world but brings a world into being.
In the early years of the twentieth century a young native of India lived in South Africa and worked to improve the conditions under which many Indians there were living. In South Africa he developed strategies of nonresistant noncooperation. He had no major successes in South Africa, but he learned about limits and possibilities when dealing with a colonial empire; when Mohandes Gandhi returned to his native India, a different story would unfold. Gandhi knew his personal limits and the limits of what could be done when confronting the largest colonial empire of the time. He also knew the power of satyagraha (soul force) and of collective action. Gandhi never lost sight of the possible. India became an independent nation. Gandhi’s model of nonviolent resistance was adopted by another population confronted with adversity, much of it in the form of legislated segregation and injustice. It was a vision of possibility – desegregated schools, equal voting rights and more – that motivated the civil rights movement in spite of the incarcerations, and worse, that were suffered when state laws and established segregation customs were broken. It was this hope, this affirmation of the possible in the face of often violent adversity, which brought victory in the end to the civil rights struggle.
What is true about hope as a driving force for communities who face adversity is equally true for hope in individual lives. Within a year after her Oscar-winning performance in the movie “Hud”, Patricia Neal suffered a severe stroke. Mother of three children, she was at the time of the stroke three months pregnant with a fourth child. Her recovery involved moving back into two roles, the family role and the professional role of actress (the resumption of which was not at all certain early in her recovery). Her first thoughts after the stroke were of the baby she carried. Barry Farrell, in his account of her recovery (1969), goes so far as to say that, “At the time of the stroke the child inside her gave her something crucial to live for.” Patricia set about the difficult task of role reentry, made the more difficult by the presence of some impaired abilities. When she first attempted to read out of a book, Peter Rabbit, to her son Theo she did a terrible job, failing to use proper inflection and not really following the story line, and was frustrated and discouraged by the undertaking. She did not, however, lose sight of what was possible at that time and what could become more possible. She did so despite impediments which initially interfered with her ability to interact with her children and threatened that part of her identity, and speech deficits which at first raised questions about her future as an actress and threatened that part of her identity as well. One hundred and thirty-nine days after the stroke Lucy Neal Dahl was born. The birth was a symbol of Patricia’s successful and increasingly complete reentry into the family role.
After the birth of Lucy, Patricia was more eager to reenterher professional role of actress.She accepted an opportunity to move backinto the public light – to speak at a New York City charity dinner sponsored by a group seeking to help brain injured children.The event was billed as: “An Eveningwith Patricia Neal.”Her husband Roald Dahl then encouraged her to make another film.Patricia’s first movie after the stroke was “The Subject Was Roses.”It was well received. Her husband read her one particularly flattering review.“Agr-r-reatcritic wrote that,” said Patricia with happy conviction.“Read it again.”