by Peter DeWit
Maybe the word we need more than any other right now is the word hope. It is good to remind ourselves at the beginning of this year that hope is indeed a strategy. Of course, I am not referring to the wishful thinking category. You know, “I wish my life was better.” We need a more potent hope than wishful thinking. We need a hope that runs deep in our hearts, that impacts our lives, our daily routines, and truly activates us to do good in this world.
Now, I am not blind to the times we live. As a baby-boomer living on this planet for over 60 years, our planet has never seemed so volatile, and dark to me. Historians will certainly be looking back at this period in which we live and describe it as ‘unprecedented.’ I resonate with Anne Lamott who writes, the narratives of despair seem to be more impressive than any narrative of hope! This is a unique, albeit dark period of time challenging every institution, including churches, organizations and political entities. All the signs seem to point out that things could and probably will get worse.
Take a look at Mother Nature, she has never seemed so distressed: Devastating fires, flash floods, mudslides, famines, earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, and all that extreme weather. We’ve seen it all, and more often. Last year my country of Canada saw the largest amount of territory destroyed by fires in recorded history. Something is off-kilter.
And then look at human nature, man, we’ve never looked so flawed: Rampant racism, the power of greed and selfishness, poverty, divisiveness, violence, devastating wars, perilous migration with tens of thousands leaving and dying, tragic deaths every year. Something is unhinged.
You might be doing okay where you live. But it’s certainly not the same for everyone, many are experiencing the awful weight of uncertainty in these times. I think about M, once a regular volunteer in Paris with Serve the City. She now teaches English to children in the West Bank, Palestine. I asked her how she manages to keep hope in a hopeless part of the world? Her thoughts are poignant. She writes:
I came to Palestine mere months ago, at the end of summer. A scorching sun blazed through a sky of endless blank azure; the air bore an acrid tang. I stared up at mountain slopes of pale maroon and dust, the dry land terraced and starry with the dim green forms of olive trees. I came knowing that these were occupied territories, under violent military occupation and apartheid rule; I came expecting difficulties. But after October 7, and the outbreak of war, the fragile familiarity I was building in my city and my school felt shattered.
I walk down broken, trash-strewn sidewalks, down streets lined with posters of the faces of the people killed. Children, young men, women with dark eyes. Some faces are smiling, suffused with life; some are faces from Gaza, twisted, bloodied, caulked with dust and screaming, screaming. They scream as bombs fall on human beings, hospitals, and homes and the world debates if the rules of war are actually rules. I don’t have much to do with politics here; I just watch people. I watch the hurt.
It hurts me, too. I feel emptied and hollowed out, lacking words, my hands grasping at sense like cypress limbs strain towards the sky — and neither of us can reach it.
“Hope” seems a very strange and alien word right now. Starvation and suffering and massacre and genocide aren’t abstract textbook terms; they’re happening about an hour’s drive away from me. And yet I, and my fellow teachers, and person after person here in Palestine, keep getting up in the morning and going to work. We are teaching the best we can; we are providing all the normalcy we can; we are caring for students and trying to show them that their lives and interests and education are valuable, even as so many other lives are snuffed out, moment-by-passing moment. It is banal. It is sometimes boring, sometimes frustrating. I don’t see a special elevation of the spirit. I just see people continuing, and in this continuation, promising to themselves and those around them that their daily acts and efforts build towards something worthwhile.
I don’t feel a lot of hope. But maybe hope, like love, is an action and not a feeling.
M’s words are pretty sober and who could blame her. She lives in one of the most dangerous and grieving parts of our planet. But she does have hope, though I suspect mingled with some despair. What hope is doing in her life, and does for all of us, is to help us walk through the dark times one step at a time, and at the same time bring kindness and joy to others. That’s why I love how M. reminds us that hope is more than some abstract feeling, it is seen in action. Hope says I can do something for someone to make this world a better place. “I can bring a little bit of joy, a moment of joy, to someone’s life.” I love this acronym of HOPE: Helping Other People Everyday. There is a very ‘practical aspect’ to hope, that changes despair into joy, anxiousness into confidence, and turns grief into comfort.
So in a world on the brink of hopelessness, can we still hope? Can we muster the courage to hope on a Monday? Can we turn back the terrible despair on a Tuesday? Can we wow our world with winsome hope on a Wednesday? Can we thrive with hope on Thursday? Can we free people up to hope again on Friday? Can we sing and soar with hope on Saturday and Sunday? I believe we can! Really, what other choice is there? Our world needs a potent hope now more than ever. And of course that is where we come in.
When I think of all our Serve the Cities around the world, I feel hopeful because of you. When I hear about your love in action it buoys my hope. As we put up new calendars for the year, may we not for one minute give into despair but may you and I embrace our vocation as agents of hope together as a STC movement and community in 2024. Through hope may we invest our energy and talents in the healing of our world. Let us love practically, and not abstractly. Yes, our value of hope is a good strategy, for it opens our hearts to generously meet needs and help other people everyday.