During these dark and uncertain times, there is a lot of talk about hope — it seems more so now than ever before. It’s completely understandable. Hope can give us an impetus to get up in the morning when nothing seems worth getting up for.
Of hope, Emily Dickinson wrote, “Hope is a thing with feathers/ That perches in the soul/ And sings the tune without the words/ And never stops — at all.”
With all due respect to Ms. Dickinson and her poetic legacy, I have come believe that it’s not quite true. At least, in my case. I don’t believe that hope a feathery thing. Hope is power tool.
I recently read an article on hope, originally published on Medium, but now on the Ladders platform in the Apple news, by Todd Brison. Brison started the article talking about 33 Chilean miners, who in 2010, were buried alive underground in a mining accident. On the 52nd day after the accident that trapped them in the mine, the first of all 33 of them was lifted out. One by one, all of them came out alive. Brison made it a point to say that without hope, those miners would not have made it. For them, hope was “… iron will. It’s grit.” He also pointed out that, luckily, hope is a choice. I agree that hope is not feathery. Hope is toughness. Hope is determination.
The topic of hope brings me to the story of Pandora’s box. Zeus was so angry that Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans, that he decided to punish all humans. He created a beautiful woman, Pandora, whom Prometheus’ brother, Epimetheus, fell in love with. One day, Mercury, the messenger from the gods, left an intricate box in Pandora’s care, cautioning her not to open it. Eventually, Pandora’s gnawing curiosity overcame Pandora, and she opened the box. Out flew many evils — evils like disease, despair, death, and all sorts of misery and calamity, and these spread all over the world. All of the evils flew out — except for one, that clung to the lid of the box — holding on for dear life — hope. This begs the question: is hope an evil or a good? Like so many things in life, the answer is complicated.
I believe that false hope is absolutely evil. It can shatter the heart, a thousand times per day. Hope can blind a person to truth, demoralize him, break his spirit. The only way to know the difference between false hope and the real deal is to temper the steel of hope with the healthy dose of reality. And before you ask me how to do that, I am going to say, “I am not really sure.” But I do know that failure to acknowledge reality and simply hoping for the best is delusional.
I think that hope is part of our natural human DNA. I am not a natural-born optimist, yet I still know the pull and allure of hope.
These trapped miners had hope tempered with realism. They immediately went into action. They selected leaders, used the electric lights to create a difference between day and night, pooled all their food and enforced strong rations. In other words, they hoped to survive, but also knew they needed to act. Without action and only hope, the miners would have all perished.
I need to remind myself, several times per day, that this worldwide pandemic — at least in it current state — is temporary. Like all things, this, too, shall pass. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t take care not to become one of its victims — I wear a mask in public, I don’t eat inside restaurants or bars, I wash my hands every time before I leave the house and when I come back home. This doesn’t mean I might not get sick. It means that I am doing everything reasonable within my power to take care of myself. And then I go an extra little mile, and prop myself up with a little hope. I tell myself that humans also have a superpower — it is our adaptability — our ingenuity. We will adapt, and we will figure this out.
I know this for a fact, I feel it in my very viscera. As my faith’s prayer book says, “Pray as if everything depends on God. Work as if everything depends on you.” So, let us hope for brighter days, and in the meantime, let’s be careful, continue to support one another, and support our research scientists, who put hope into action.