We eagerly embraced the New Year with our usual gusto. We welcomed 2022 with our traditional song and dance and deafening noises filled with happiness and cheer. For a brief moment in time we forgot about the sour news of more Covid-19 threats, economic crises and the pain and suffering of past years. We made our deafening noises, a cry from within us, hugged and cheered, each other with mingled laughter and tears.
Our dormant sense of hope, suddenly awakened, once again empowered us with the strength to face the future, come what may.
Did we have reason to believe the New Year would be different from 2020 and 2021? No. But we had hope.
Hope is a powerful force that enables us to face and overcome life’s challenges. It is a gift God gave man alone. Some creatures may sense impending events, but cannot contemplate the future. Hope is unique to our species, because it requires words and thoughts to examine and design possible future events.
Still unaware of the ferocity of the pandemic, forever threatening, forever enigmatic, we deal with it as best as we can. It has assumed many names, protocols, precautions, plus a few vaccines, still it clings to us as we cling to hope.
Despite the challenges of living in this fallen world, it is human nature to hold on to hope. Psychologists present encouraging possibilities when breaking bad news to patients. After moments of the initial shock, hope takes over during serious illnesses, fostering healing and recovery. It whispers to us that challenges and threats can be overcome, and that there will be a better tomorrow. Tomorrow is what we live for today.
The religious meaning of hope cannot be overlooked. Through prayers, believers in God trust that their future will be protected by their deity. However, the presence of hope is secular and universal. It serves as a beacon, much like a lighthouse beckoning us during periods of darkness and stormy seas.
Even in ancient, pre-scientific times, people have felt that the spirit of hope, its power to heal affliction, reverse bad luck and stave off the evil spirits. Why do we wear charms, amulets and blue stones? They are popular in all cultures acting as a security blanket, as well as symbols of hopes and wishes for good fortune. Let us encourage this hope born within us, for it also a great motivator to help others.
Simultaneously, we must be aware of false hope which can be misguided or even destructive. Merely waiting for an impossible situation to resolve, can be demoralizing and self-defeating as vividly captured in the play by Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot.
Humans have the duty to focus on the good that exists, such as eternal hope, as implied in the writings of Alexander Pope, English poet who, inspired by the Biblical phrase: “Hope springs eternal”, he coined the expression in his 1732 “An Essay on Man”, in which he wrote:
“Hope springs eternal in the human breast/ Man never is, but always to be blest”, a dictum still as profound today as it is poetic.
Survivors of extreme disasters inspire us with the hope they adhere to. Think of the slaves around the world, or the Londoners during the blitz, or the survivors of natural disasters, or individuals like Anne Frank, Florence Nightingale and on and on.
Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in his Ninth Symphony expressed hope for humankind, hope for peace.
When problems seem insurmountable, what do we do, lose hope? Never. We light our eternal candles of hope.
Why are Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr memorable? Despite deep turmoil their inner wisdom preserved the gift of hope and they were able to overcome.
Eternity is the sense of all hope, without which our race would have vanished. God placed an eternal sense of hope in us which sustains us through life’s misfortunes. We have a divinely implanted hopeful awareness in our souls. Hope is present in every situation.
Sometimes, when confronted with unknowable circumstances, we seem to lose hope. In reality we never do — not entirely, but maybe we experience a temporary sense of despair. If we lose it we lose all pleasures of life, we lose our appetite for living; we waste away into oblivion. We must be aware of this danger and reignite our hope in God, in life and in the future.
It is not a mission impossible. It can and is done every day, that is why we are still here. As we live with hope overcoming every obstacle, surviving every tragedy we experience the wonder of the stuff we are made of.
There may be troubles ahead, and there will be, but do we have the will to hope?
Hope is written within us. It helps us endure anything, with spiritual strength, all the hardships of this uncertain, chaotic world.
Tali Short, principal investigator at University College, London, coined the phrase “optimism bias”, which is baked in us. The optimism bias makes revolutionary sense when it reduces anxiety and gets us exploring our lives, our health and our happiness. What a great resolution for this New Year.
Unsurprisingly, optimism and hope go hand-in-hand, but hope is focused on specific goals.
Do you have goals? Make them now, for this is the year to accomplish them.
Do not accept defeat. Do not give up on life. The outcome is unthinkable.
“After all, tomorrow is another day.”
Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949)
*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.