The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. ― Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams
As Guy handed me the bouquet of tightly curled, fist-sized pink peonies he just couldn’t resist buying he remarked, “I hope they’ll open.” We have, in the past, purchased cut peonies only to be disappointed that they never unfurled their petals.
Hope. We place such varying weights on this little word, from wishes (I hope she likes it) to aspirations (I hope to become a surgeon), dreams and desires (I hope to travel to Thailand someday) to pound-the-pavement plans (because I hope she’ll win the election, I’ll join the campaign efforts). Longings for loving relationships. Expectations for how the world should be.
I’ll say it again: we are living in a messy moment in history, a confluence of what might have been and what was. It will be fascinating to someday read about 2020 in my grandchildren’s textbooks, to recall the TP shortages, endless hand washing, and frozen Zoom calls, almost comical sidebars boxed alongside the heaviness of illness and death and the racial and political strife dividing loved ones as it threatens to irreparably crack the democracy we claim to hold dear.
And it is also the first week of Advent in my church tradition, the four weeks before Christmas in which we anticipate the birth of Jesus. The theme for this first week is hope.
Last week Americans celebrated Thanksgiving and, as with so much of this year, the festivities might have looked different with loved ones on Zoom rather than around the table. In this odd year it may be harder to locate our gratitude, more difficult to name our hopes. Once again I turned to Facebook and asked friends and neighbors: What are you hopeful for – for the last few weeks of this year or this holiday season or next year, for yourself or your loved ones or our community, country, world?
Interestingly, answers poured in when I invited people to share their uniquely 2020 points of gratitude. It took longer to receive less input on hope, perhaps evidence of our collective weariness. Yet hope is resilient, and personally I hope that in sharing we will nurture our individual hope-filled seedlings. Like the entwining of tree roots under the surface, we gain strength from one another.
And so, we hope…
We hope for good health and that a COVID vaccine will become widely available soon.
We have many hopes for our children but this year our hopes have nuances – that, with tweaks to at-home desk arrangements, they can become more successful in remote learning; that somehow we can mitigate stress and preserve their mental health; that their memories of childhood won’t be scarred by hand sanitizer and social distancing. We yearn to see children playing, hugging, and running freely with friends. We’re hopeful to soon hear the giggling of unrestrained joy.
We hope to get back to normal and yet we also hope that we will have allowed this time to change us for the better. We hope for a new-and-improved normal over the version of normal we left behind last March. We hope for light and love to outshine hate and darkness. We hope for the unity of the United States, to disagree and discuss our varied viewpoints (how boring life would be if everyone agreed on everything) while maintaining respect through civil discourse.
We hope for peace. For a peaceful transition of power come January and for global goal-setting and collaboration. We hope to experience a greater appreciation for our human family. We hope that the pandemic has given us space to grow into being the humans the world needs, more patient, more compassionate, more flexible, more grateful. Willing to do what it takes to address not only our own health but the health of our planet. We hope to emerge with a renewed understanding of what matters most and commitments to prioritizing what we say we value, like creativity and kindness. We hope to experience an unstoppable wave of love washing over our hurting planet.
And let’s have a laugh: we hope that January 1, 2021, doesn’t inexplicably flip the calendar back to the beginning of 2020 – it feels like Groundhog Day around here.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that hope seen isn’t hope – who hopes for what they already have? The whole point of hope is that we hope for what we don’t yet have. He advises us to wait patiently, especially when it’s hard, and this year has been beyond hard for many of us. I’m not very patient; it’s all I can do not to peak at the Christmas presents not cleverly hidden. Still, Christmas is coming. 2020 will end, as will the pandemic.
So we wait, with all the patience we can muster, joyful in hope.
By the way, the peonies bloomed fantastically like something out of Alice in Wonderland. For almost two weeks they have graced us with their beauty, worth every penny of that hope-filled purchase.