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Not long ago during this season of misery, I came upon this bit of writing:
Hope dies all the time.
And yet we need to believe
that it will come back and
attach itself to a new
cause – a new love, a new
house, something gives
us a sense of purpose,
which is ultimately what
These words have the sharp metal of truth. They come from Hilton Als remembering his mother who “always had hope, because she knew that it had helped to change the world, her black world.”
Hope does die all of the time. Standing at the graves of hope we remember every sad song we ever heard and we weep for what could have been.
It is just in those moments, when a promising, cherished hope perishes, that we hang on to whatever still has some sense of purpose for us. For most of us, that sense of purpose is family responsibilities. Some of us will recite the promises of faith, until something like hope might rekindle. Others will mumble about stoic acceptance and silent surrender, two familiar masquerades of simply giving up. But, deep down, we all want hope to come back, to resurrect. It is a bad, bad state to mourn hope. It can cause us to do dumb thing and mean things.
I believe in this season of misery we as a nation, but perhaps more deeply as a culture, can resurrect a sense of purpose, which is ultimately what hope is. I believe the sense of purpose we all have is to be free. Just that: Free. Judy Collins, Joe Crocker, and others made popular a song by poet Richard Cohen. It begins: “like a bird on a wave, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free…like a warm on a hook, like a knight in an old-fashioned book, I have tried to be free.”
Don’t we all? Sometimes we try to be free in creative, life-giving ways. Other times we are destructive. For me, that is what the United States of American is (not are) all about…freedom and the trying in the process. Trying hard. Trial and error. Struggling to get it right with the help of our elected, and sometimes in spite of our elected. Being free is a stretch for our conglomeration of odd balls, true believers, and money grubbers. Over and over again, we tear down, reform, and rebuild, just trying to be free, as free as we can be yet holding together as one people. What a grand purpose that gives each of us a common hope despite any miseries that come our way.
When we cultivate our prejudices and react to our injustices, it will help to remember that we all are just trying to be free and that trying gives a common hope to celebrate, a hope that can get sorely wounded but need not die.