"HOPE is like the sun, which, as we journey toward it,
casts the shadow of our burden behind us."
(Condensed from CHRISTIAN HERALD-October, 1974)
by Ardis Whitman
Printed in the Reader's Digest
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"Everything that is done in the world is done by hope,"
said Martin Luther. "Hope is, perhaps, the chief
happiness this world affords," said Samuel Johnson.
One thing is sure. Neither individuals nor society
can survive without it. Hope is the mechanism that
keeps the human race tenaciously alive and dreaming,
planning, building. Hope is not the opposite of realism.
It is the opposite of cynicism and despair. The best of
humanity has always hoped when there was no way; lived
what was unlivable; and managed to build when there was
little to build on.
This is the natural and healthy attitude for living
beings. "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine," says
the Book of Proverbs. This ancient knowledge has gained
new confirmation in our time. It was found after
World War II, for example, that American prisoners of
war who had been convinced they would come out alive,
whose mind and spirit were focused on life as it was
to be lived in the future, emerged with much less
damage than those who felt they would never go home again.
Psychiatrist Flanders Dunbar once wrote of two cardiovascular
patients equally ill. One said, "It's up to you now, doctor."
The other said, "I've got to do something to get well." The
first died; the second recovered.
Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, of the University of Pennsylvania,
has performed experiments on the causes of depression, the
disorder that affects millions every year. He has found that
depressed people regard every minor obstacle as an impassable
barrier. Responding to anything is felt to be useless because
"nothing I do matters." Successful therapy, he told me, starts
when we begin to believe again that we can be effective human
beings and can control our lives.
Also, how much we dare hope about ourselves affects how we
behave toward other people. We've all encountered the kind of
person that poet A.E. Housman meant when he wrote of the "mortal
sickness of a mind too unhappy to be kind." The man who hopes
sees other human beings as they COULD be, and so helps THEM.
A man I knew had an alcoholic wife. Again and again she
disappointed him. But he never lost hope. One night, she
shamed him in front of old friends. Afterward, she broke into
tears. "Why don't you leave me?" she cried. "Because I remember
a very beautiful person," he answered. "And I believe she's
still there." Ultimately, she did recover.
But doesn't hope betray us every day? Isn't hope for most
people just whistling in the dark? To answer such questions is
only to say what we have always known. Hope is AGAINST odds.
Damon Runyon, the writer, once said, "Life is six to five against."
It has always been so. All life is a contest of light against
darkness, joy against despair. Yet, most of us do hope, most of
Why? Perhaps because hope is natural to man. We are new
people every morning, because somehow, on this side of the night,
we spring out of the dreaming darkness and start over again. I
recall a man who was so distracted by his griefs--a wife who had
run off with another man, a child in reform school, a crippling
illness and, finally, a fire which nearly destroyed his house--
that he tried to commit suicide. Yet, on the morning after the
attempt, he woke and said to the friend who had been sitting with
him, "What a pretty day this is! You know, I think I could build
my house again." Life itself had quickened within him.
We hope again as naturally as the seeds sprout and the sun
rises, and perhaps for the same reasons. Hope's signature seems
to be written on earth and sky and sea and on all that lives.
Cells divide; flowers grow; trees put out leaves; animals breed
and protect their young--all in a kind of cosmic expectation, the
same expectation, the same call toward the future, which dreamed
the light and the starry meadows of the sky.
But, natural and vital as hope may be, we can lose it. With
many of us, hope simply grows tired as our lives grow tired. Can
we be told HOW to hope, or helped to regain it?
Of course we can. Precisely because hope is in the natural
flow of life, it is unleashed naturally by removing the abnormal
impediments that block it. Here are some suggestions.
HOPE FOR THE MOMENT. There are times when it is hard to
believe in the future, when we are temporarily just not brave
enough. When this happens, concentrate on the present. Just as
alcoholics must learn to stay sober one day at a time, despairing
people must learn to hope for one day's mercy at a time. Cultivate
le petit bonheur ("the little happiness") until courage returns.
Look forward to the beauty of the next moment, the next hour, the
promise of a good meal, sleep, a book, a movie, the immediate
likelihood that tonight the stars will shine and tomorrow the sun
will rise. Sink roots into the present until the strength grows
to think about tomorrow.
TAKE ACTION. "When I can't see any way out," a stranger wrote
me some years ago, "I do something anyway." This is good advice
to anyone paralyzed by despair; it helps him get off dead center.
"The only real sin in the world," wrote Charles McCabe in his
column in the San Francisco Chronicle, "is not to fight, not to
realize the fullness of your own nature." If all else is paralyzed,
remember, we can at least change ourselves.
BELIEVE IN HOPE. Don't be persuaded that the pessimists have
a corner on truth. These people would rather live in a fog of
skepticism than chance disappointment. Besides, the minute one says
there is no hope, there is nothing one has to do; it's the world's
best alibi against action. It is the adult in us, not the child,
which, knocked down, gets up again and says, against the odds,
"Tomorrow will be better."
Hope is not a lie but the truth itself. It is true that man
aspires and builds his hope into institutions that move forward
even when he wearies. The Tom Dooleys and Albert Schweitzers of
the world are as real as the Hitlers. Average people, strengthened
by faith, do perform saintly deeds--and heroic ones.
So summon hope. It is as right as spring sunlight. But,
even if it were not, it would work its magic, since hope is a goal
in itself. It is an exercise in gallantry, a frame of mind, a style
of life, a climate of the heart.
Even if we are not going to win, even if death and disaster
are finally going to catch up with us, hope is worthwhile, for it
enables us to drain the last drop of joy from whatever time we
have left. If joy is coming, hope will have proved itself right;
if disaster, hope will have strengthened us to meet it.