Wednesday, October 04, 2006


The Hope Foundation is a centre for hope studies.  We have an international database of hope research literature, a visiting scholar from Australia, a multiple=year study of the process of hope in counselling, a library, a counselling program, programs for kids and—a herd of hope-opotamuses on the mantel.  Big and small, rubber and plush, piggybanks and cd holders, the herd is an accidental collection.  It has assembled slowly, without intention, the result of good will, of human generosity.  . 


Conference agendas are a little like our herd.  They begin with good intentions, with a vague idea about education.  Committees gather, they look for money, they invite experts.  And occasionally, very occasionally, one of the committee members successfully makes the case for having a session on hope. 


There is plenty to say about hope to doctors, to nurses, to patients, to family members.  But when you get them together in a large room, with their stomachs overflowing with a more-than-ample lunch, and their heads brimming with the graphs and charts from the morning Powerpoints, you wonder how best to proceed.  So you collect your lecture notes for the academics, a few books about hope for the readers, and you throw in three purple hope-opotamuses, a large, a medium and a small.  Hope-opotamuses do their own work.  You never quite know what they will accomplish.


The large one offers to sit with a conference participants during the lecture.  Nobody claims him at first, but a group of nurses pick him up and sit him with a doctor.  At the end of the hour, the doctor does what I want him to do.  He trades him in for a hope book. 


The medium is snapped up without hesitation.  The lady who holds him is sad to trade him in for a book.  It is my prerogative to take him back, but I cannot do it, so I leave him with her and offer the book for the taking.  The book is snapped up like a treasure. 


And then there is the small one, teenie, really, a Teenie Beanie Baby, 1993.  He travels with the herd, but he’s not really a member.  His name is Hopey, and he belongs to me.  He was a gift, a gift of hope from someone who had known in his deepest soul the meaning of hopelessness.  For a while he sat on my counselling table, a happy little reminder that sometimes my work makes a difference.  Then one day he snuggled in my purse and went to a hospital.  Retrieving him from the clutter of lip-gloss, Aspirin tissues and combs, I gave him to my mother. 


I could forgive her for her initial lack of enthusiasm.  After all, she was sick, and her pain was overwhelming, and the drugs were stupefying, and the predictions were dire, and she could not get out of bed.  And I was willing to take him back, to place him temporarily among the flowers on the windowsill.  But she was still coherent enough to want to please me, so she cradled him in the palm of her hand and said she would keep him for a while.  Neither of us had any idea how powerful he would become.


It was truly amazing how quickly he took charge.  He had one rule which she took it upon herself to enforce, he must not be placed beyond her reach.  To the porter who left him in the lab when he returned her to her room she said: “Hopey is back in the lab.  He needs to be here with me.” To the busy cancer doctor who removed him from her hand in order to take her pulse she told the story of the unfortunate porter who had been forced to return to the lab.  And soon Hopey was running the hospital more or less, governing the actions of the nurses, the housekeeping staff.  She could not say to them “respect me!  Understand my needs!  Treat me like a human being, like you’d want your mother to be treated.” But Hopey could say it for her.  He could make them all stop and listen.  He did make them listen.


And when he finally lost her, he came back to me.  Sometimes we go to conferences, to make them listen.



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