A new definition of HOPE

Despite the events of September 11, many people have good reasons to look forward to the new year.

January 06, 2002|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN STAFF

Hope. "The thing with feathers that perches in the soul," poet Emily Dickinson called it.

After a grim 2001, we could use something to be hopeful about. For many Americans, the end of the year settled into a dull anxiety as our lives almost, but not quite, got back to normal after Sept. 11.

The country is at war, the economy is in trouble. Madmen are on the evening news. Disease and death have been as close as our mailboxes. It sounds like the Greek myth: Pandora has opened the jar that contains the evils and diseases that plague mankind. When they escape into the world, only hope remains at the bottom.

But how do we find hope for the new year when the world seems so filled with despair?

The optimists among us have various ways of remaining positive.

Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, finds hope in the fact that Americans displayed a new spirit of unity and patriotism as a result of the terrorist attacks - that good came out of so much suffering.

Some take comfort in symbols. Surely whatever is built at ground zero will be as powerful a symbol of hope as the Statue of Liberty or the Washington Monument.

"Architecture is inherently about hope," says Steven Ziger of Ziger Snead in Baltimore. "You have to be an optimist because you're always building for the future. I'm hopeful things will turn out long-term - that's the nature of progress."

Raymond Moody, co-author of Life After Loss: Conquering Grief and Finding Hope (Harper San Francisco, 2001) turns to the past to find hope for the future.

"There's a great deal of comfort to be had in the great classics about the human condition," he says. "New-age so-called spiritual books are pap. They give satisfaction for a moment. It's not long lasting."

He recommends the essays of Plato, C. S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley, and Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, the story of how hope helped Frankl survive three years in Nazi concentration camps.

Faith Kauffmann, the widow of novelist Lane Kauffmann and a resident of Glen Arm, Md., has her own way of remaining hopeful.

"I ignore all the down things," she says. "I have a good forgettery."

Hope is a slippery thing. Buddhists don't see it as good; they seek freedom from both hope and despair. People use the term false hope almost as much as hope. It's a word that lends itself to aphorisms, quick sound bites that seem profound but are hard to pin down, like the ones in Vicki Girard's book There's No Place like Hope (Compendium Inc., 2001), about her fight against cancer:"Hope is a prayer without the formality," she writes. And: "Hope costs nothing to give and is priceless to have." And: "My continued existence sprang from hope put into action."

Yet whether or not we can pin down its exact meaning, hope has proven to be an important factor in surviving life-threatening diseases. Take a hundred patients with the same medical condition who undergo the same treatment. The ones who maintain hope are more likely to survive. "Hope is the major thing that gets people through grief," says Moody. As for the events of Sept. 11 and their aftermath, he is hopeful they will change us as a people, that we will, in some important ways, grow up.

"This will wake us up to the need for critical thinking," he says. "It seems as if as a nation we have lost our ability for delayed gratification."

Moody's co-author, Dianne Arcangel, works for a grief counseling center in New York City. After the World Trade Center's destruction, she was called in to help the victims' families.

"Hope is about the future," she says. "Those who do best have a passion for the future. No matter what, they can still see something positive: the memory they're going to carry, or that this might be a huge step toward world peace. Others can't find anything to cling to for the future."

The ability to be hopeful is partly a biological trait, Arcangel believes, and partly environmental. "But if neither is there, they are probably going to be hopeless and helpless," she says.

It's easiest for those who practice religion to be hopeful, because they can cling to the hope that something exists beyond this world.

Beyond that, says Rabbi Seymour Essrog of Adat Chaim Congregation in Reisterstown, religion should teach hope for a better tomorrow Although it's a cliche, as long as there's life, there's hope.

"There's a lot of good," he says. "Good will triumph over evil. I believe we learn from it."

Some sort of spiritual connection is often key, although it's not necessarily religious. After Sept. 11, Christine Raymond, executive editor and general manager of Spirituality.com (www.spirituality.com), found that traffic on her Web site tripled.

"At first people were looking for comfort," she says. "Now they're more concerned about the future. They are finding hope from each other. The Web is so helpful; it provides a way for relationships through chat rooms and discussion boards. This is a time when hope is needed. The Web has allowed people to connect. There's hope in that."

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