Fred Niedner: Amidst the dark and fear, hope still appears
December 2, 2011 8:56PM
Updated: January 4, 2012 8:02AM
Apparently enough folks enjoy the shopping and feasting marathons upon which we embark each December to keep us at them year after year. Those of us who find them crazy-making have learned to find refuge in a quiet corner, someplace we can’t hear Johnny Mathis dreaming of a white Christmas or declaring this the most wonderful time of the year.
Either way, we engage in practiced exercises of denial that keep us from fully acknowledging the darkness that always lingers about us but seems deeper, almost tangible, in these sun-forsaken months. In isolated cells of silence all around me, people I know and love hold their breath, and wait.
A 50-something friend, jobless for two years now, tirelessly pounds the proverbial pavement looking for employment. The hardest part is not giving up.
Every day, it seems, a newly unfolding cancer story begins nearby. Each means that yet another person I know, even if he or she survives the initial assault, will spend years learning to manage the inevitable anxiety spikes that accompany the follow-up rhythm of checkups, tests, and scans.
Those with extra energy for worrying can spend it on worldwide financial uncertainty or the deepening ethnic and political polarization that seems ever more capable of dividing us all into tiny cliques of cornered rats.
The ancient Greeks didn’t know about shopping malls in December, but they knew the rest of this nightmare. It began with Pandora, their old myth taught. Her curiosity got the best of her and she opened the beautiful box of ills and evils the gods had trapped inside. Amidst the ensuing racket of pain, anger, and quarreling, Pandora heard another small voice inside the container. When she lifted the lid again, Hope came forth and began at once to soothe humankind’s new wounds and heartaches.
The Bible’s oldest word for hope is “tikvah,” which also means cord or thread. The metaphor is obvious. In the darkness, beset by fears, threats and enemies known and unknown, we sometimes find ourselves clinging to a single thread that keeps us going from one moment to the next. Without hope, some solitary cord from which to suspend our lives, the darkness would have us.
Sometimes we hope for trivial things--a winning lottery ticket or World Series victory. Authentic hope has to do with life and death and the meaning of the universe. When doctors discover that a toddler’s poor appetite comes not from food allergies but a brain tumor, the family clings to the hope that their child will survive, but just as fiercely to the thread of hope that the world makes sense. A universe that cares nothing for children is a bleak place indeed.
As countless slaves and abused people have learned repeatedly in the darkest times of human history, hope clings to dreams of freedom and to the belief that somewhere, somehow, even if it never becomes visible in the here and now, justice will reign.
To my way of thinking, the cords to which we cling must be anchored in something beyond ourselves. Most days, lifelines that connect us to family, community, and various institutions or experts suffice. But on what firm hook does the whole remarkable but cranky lot of us hang?
I suspect the whole world depends on the same trusty but mostly ignored hands so many of us will count on when we inevitably lose our grip on hope’s thin cord. Some may deem such hope a foolish gamble. Perhaps it is, but here in the darkness, we have nothing to lose by clinging to it tightly as we can.