“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 chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.
A warm and brightly lit winter night is a modern invention. Its fairly easily forgotten by us, in our place of technological privilege, but before the inventions of the gas heater (1856), the electric heater (1883), and a modern central air style-heater (1919), winters could be quite perilous. Combined with the uncertainty of a community or farmstead’s food supply, of medical care in case of illness, and other hardships, it should be of little surprise that people from many cultures have chosen the time of the solstice for celebration in their own ways. The Longest Night comes at the apex of winter, a celebration that the sun will strengthen and return prosperity. We celebrate this time as a time of hope. Hope is the gift of life.
Hope is not your typical form of positivity. Most positive emotions arise when we feel safe and satiated. Hope is the exception. It comes into play when our circumstances are dire – things are not going well or at least there’s considerable uncertainty about how things will turn out. Hope arises precisely within those moments when fear, hopelessness or despair seem just as likely.
Hope literally opens us up. It removes the blinders of fear and despair and allows us to see the big picture. We become creative, unleashing our dreams for the future. This is because deep within the core of hope is the belief that things can change. No matter how awful or uncertain they are at the moment, things can turn out for the better. Possibilities exist. Belief in this better future sustains us. It keeps us from collapsing in despair. It infuses our bodies with the healing rhythms of positivity. It motivates us to tap into our signature capabilities and inventiveness to turn things around. It inspires us to build a better future.
It seems like we are living in a time where cynicism is now fashionable. Just take a look at the TV or the internet for more than 5 minutes, it should be fairly obvious. But I think, perhaps, the Greeks called it right on this one. We should be praising hope, not making fun or condemning those that have it, even if we perceive the source of that hope, or what they hold hope in as foolish. If you ask my daughter what she wants to be when she grows up, she will tell you that she wants to be a mermaid. When I foolishly advised Chickadee that this might not be an wise choice in careers–or even a career at all, she responded with “But momma, you always told me that if I worked really hard and tried my best, I could be whatever I wanted to be when I grew up.” Darn if she didn’t have me there. Even better, the reason she wants to be a mermaid? To teach people how to live in peace with Mama O’shen and her creatures.
I’m willing to bet that my Chickadee will find a way to be a mermaid.
And I hope that she can teach people to live in peace with Mama O’shen and her creatures.