752. Hope on the pages of novels

752. Bench.JPG

Because I've been writing about, and working on a book about, hope, I've been trying to keep my eyes open for the role of hope in the lives of characters in novels.  It's quite interesting how often hope is a key force in story lines.

A couple years ago I wrote here about reading Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout. The book's main character, Olive, was continually in her own self-imposed exile, but nevertheless always held out her hand to pull someone else back from their exile, or demise. In this novel in stories, Olive meets up with Kevin, the boy-turned-man whom Olive had helped as a child when his mother was crazy, as he sits in his car on a cliff, suicidal yet contemplating hope. Olive opens the door and climbs into the front seat. Kevin likes that Olive has joined him: “Again, Kevin found himself liking the sound of her voice...Don't go, his mind said to Mrs. Kitteridge. Don't go. But this turbulence in him was torture. … Hope was a cancer inside him. He didn't want it; he did not want it. He could not bear these shoots of tender green hope springing up within him any longer.”

But then Kevin sees a young woman, an old friend, fall off the cliff just beyond his car and into the ocean below, and he moves from fighting against hope to enacting hope. He jumps in to save her, and he is saved in the process:

“He had only to keep Patty from falling away, and as they went again beneath the swirling, sucking water, he strengthened his grip on her arm to let her know: He would not let her go. … he thought he would like this moment to be forever: the dark-haired woman on shore calling for their safety, the girl who had once jumped rope like a queen, now holding him with a fierceness that matched the power of the ocean—oh, insane, ludicrous, unknowable world! Look how she wanted to live, look how she wanted to hold on."

If you like the idea, pay attention in the next novel you read and see if you don't see hope somewhere on the page.


[Photo: taken of a bench at Trinity Lutheran church in Hovland, Minnesota]

751. Images of hope

751. Superior Stone Pillars.jpg

"We started with the belief that the act of creation—photography, in this case—is an act of hope," wrote Alice Rose George and Lee Marks in their introduction to Hope: Photographs, a collection of about 100 photographs that these editors selected for their ability to convey something about hope. The book also includes essays by Robert Coles, Reynolds Price, and Lionel Tiger.

From the essay by Reynolds Price: "An ability to ignite and cultivate hope in our lives must be consciously taught to hopeless creatures and carefully learned by them, and its presence must be constantly invoked in every human life. For hope is born and dies by the moment, even in the most focused and optimistic mind. That’s why one of the hardest tasks of a parent, a kinsman, a friend, or a sworn mate lies in the unceasing duty to pass on to younger or frailer creatures an undiscouragable taste for hope, “the desire and search for a future good.” [quoted from The American Heritage Dictionary definition of hope] No one can rest in maintaining that taste in himself.”

And a few pages later in the same essay: “…the gift of hope demands that we hand that same gift on to our fellows.”

The editors made the point that while there's so much in our corporate awareness to cause despair or an absence of hope (the book was published in 1998), the reality is that we consistently seek and document that which is hopeful. When we start paying attention, hope, of many varieties, is everywhere.

On the book's pages there's a photograph of Apollo 11 blasting off on its mission to the moon; there's a black-and-white photograph of a couple dressed in street clothes dancing on a dirt road next to a barbed wire fence; there's a photograph of a tailor sewing on a sewing machine outdoors in a Rwandan refugee camp. There's a photograph of a young couple sitting in a bar or cafe in a spotlight of sunshine and another of an older woman smiling with her eyes closed as someone combs her hair and another of a gravesite with a picket fence marking its perimeter, planted sunflowers growing inside.

What photograph have you taken lately that speaks of hope? I don't often open the comments section but I'd love to hear your response or thoughts.


[Photo: taken of a couple tiny stone pillars someone had built and left on the shore. An image of hope, yes?]


749. Making visible signs of hope

749. Making Visible Signs of Hope.jpg

This past week I've been reading Henri Nouwen's, The Wounded Healer. Written in 1972 and primarily to an audience of ministers, I'm finding that it offers much wisdom to anyone who seeks to be a caring and positive presence in the world. I'm going to write more about it in my newsletter this weekend, but here's a place to start:

More than anything, else, he will look for signs of hope and promise in the situation in which he finds himself...[and have] the sensibility to notice the small mustard seed and the trust to believe that ‘when it has grown it is the biggest shrub of all and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and shelter in its branches.’ (Mt. 13:31—32) He knows that if there is hope for a better world in the future the signs must be visible in the present, and he will never curse the now in favor of the later. He is not a naive optimist who expects his frustrated desires to be satisfied in the future, nor a bitter pessimist who keeps repeating that the past has taught him that there is nothing new under the sun; he is rather a man of hope who lives with the unshakable conviction that now he is seeing a dim reflection in the mirror, but that one day he will see the future face to face.

The Christian leader who is able not only to articulate the movements of the spirit but also to contemplate his world with a critical but compassionate eye, may expect that the convulsive generation will not choose death as the ultimate desperate form for protest, but instead the new life of which he has made visible the first hopeful signs.

Please forgive Nouwen the exclusive use of masculine pronouns (which he apologizes for in the introduction to the edition I read). Next, consider that his term "the convulsive generation" can apply to any person who is troubled or needs hope.

And then, most importantly, let's please imagine ourselves (dare I say) in the leader role, articulating the spirit, considering our world with a compassionate eye, and making visible signs of hope to whomever among us needs it.


[Photo: reflections on a summer sidewalk]