Heroic Virtue: HOPE

By Charles F. Harper: Hope – “The Thing with Feathers”

By Charles F Parker

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. 


Questions for Discussion

In your daily work or activities, what is it that you hope they will do for you and others?

Think of a local or global issue that easily upsets you. How would you hope to make a difference with your passion, talents, and resources?

If you could hope for one thing to change in the world, regardless of what you thought you could do about it, what would it be?

In your opinion where does hope come from?

Stories Exemplifying Hope

Austin Gutwein

By: Lindsey from Palmer, Massachusetts
Austin Gutwein founded Hoops of Hope.

Archbishop Oscar Romero

By: Natalie from San Francisco
Archbishop Oscar Romero was a passionate voice of hope, peace and justice in war-torn El Salvador.

Dr. Tedd Collins IV

By: Wendy Jewell

"An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity"

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friedl Dicker-Brandeis

By: Taylor Copeland
Friedl Dicker-Brandeis was an artist and teacher who gave children hope during the Holocaust.

Artwork Exemplifying Hope

Hope for Yesterday Today and Tommorrow

By: Rita Stern

original art work for MY HERO web site 1995

Circle of Hope

By: World Aids Orphan Day Participants, Santa Monica

"Hope... Changes... Love... Imagination..."

By: Sabah Kinder Art

Art Miles Mural Project under supervision of Joanne Tawfilis

Marathon of Hope

By: Taylor Dotsikas

Films Exemplifying Hope

Child to Child: Heart to Heart

Producer: Linda McLean and Debra Roberts of Little Pearls
Kids from the Asheville, N.C. area send poignant messages of love and support to the children of greater New York who suffered personal loss in the September 11 tragedies.

Calypso Tumblers

Producer: Skip Blumberg
A Documentary about The Calypso Tumblers of New York City. Created by Award winning filmmaker, Skip Blumberg.

Don't Give it All Away

Producer: Slater Jewell-Kemker
Slater uses this wonderful song by World Party to promote youth activism.

Itipini Community Project

Producer: Rahul Brown
Children and workers alike in the Itipini slum of South Africa find hope.

Synonyms for Hope

Trust; wish, anticipate

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