A nurse in a hospital hopes that her patient will get better; a teacher hopes that her passion for her subject will spill over to her students and they will be filled with an enthusiasm to learn; an environmental activist hopes that the mission of his movement will fall on the listening ears of people in power and an endangered species will be saved from extinction.
Hope -- the animating “energy” which fuels heroes, giving them the forward thrust to envision and create projects, actions, and organizations, and then to keep their vision going and growing.
“Hope,” as Protestant Minister William Sloan Coffin tells us, “… is patient. It is willing to stay with us in the here and now and assures us that the future is open. Hope arouses as nothing else can arouse, a passion for the possible.”
But is hope enough?
In classical mythology, all of the world’s miseries and ills are wrapped up in a box and given to Pandora.
Pandora is told to never, ever open the box. In some versions of the story she is overcome with curiosity and she opens it; in others she trips and falls and it breaks open. Nonetheless, trouble is unleashed on the world. When the sound and fury of its unleashing is over, Pandora looks in the almost empty box and sees that there is one thing left: HOPE.
When a hero decides to take on some of the challenges of today’s versions the Pandora spill, sometimes hope doesn’t seem like it’s enough.
Emily Dickinson wrote a poem entitled, “Hope Is the Thing with Feathers.”
“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 chilliest land-
And on the strangest Sea-
Yet – never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
Taking a closer look at a feather I keep on my desk, I marvel at its exquisite engineering. Aerodynamically sophisticated, incorporating the right combination of rigidity and flexibility, hollow spaces with a straight shaft, minute gradations at the end, hair-like projections, smoothness and roughness arranged to effect the movement of air without loss of efficiency. Really a well designed machine to invite and permit flight and freedom.
Dickinson speaks of the strength of the feather:
“And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard-
And sore must be the storm-
That could abash the little Bird…"
Hope is what is left to handle the anxieties, worries and fears swirling around and in us, inviting us to soar with our dreams.
When it comes to sustaining the “works and days” of the hands of heroes everywhere, indeed, perhaps “The Thing with Feathers” is enough after all.