Friday, January 23, 2009


We were standing in the Hope Foundation reception area, Joan and Lenora and me, just chatting about Hope Week. Oh yes, Hope Week 2009 will begin on February 2, and there will be media coverage. After all, the purpose of Hope Week is to celebrate the difference that hope makes.
Talking about hope in the media is always harder than it seems. I never fail to be surprised at how much harder it is to discuss hope with a reporter than with a street person, or somebody who’s just been diagnosed with ALS. Maybe it’s because most media interviewers start with the premise that hope is intangible. Maybe it’s because we’re a little bit cautious, not wanting to sound like snake oil salesmen. Whatever the reason, we find it pretty easy to get lost when we start promoting Hope Week in the media.
At Lenora’s suggestion, we were looking for one simple idea, one eloquent phrase to keep us focussed. We were saying, “Hope changes lives,” and then, “Hope can change a future,” and then Lenora said, “Hope changes futures.” We stopped at that, pausing to reflect, wondering where to go from there.
The front door of Hope House opened, and there was Bev Carlson, in for an appointment, not with any of us. Oh dear, we thought. This looks bad, three of us just standing around chatting. It’s kind of normal at Hope House, where we truly enjoy each other’s company and learn together on a daily basis. But we don’t like to get caught in the act. We prefer to leave the public with the impression that we are mysteriously wise.
I don’t know Bev well. But I do have a lot of respect for her ideas. She once wrote a passionate letter about hope, a letter full of kitchen table wisdom that made us cry. Later she gave permission to reprint part of the letter in our annual fund-raising solicitation. So when she offered a warm smile from lips half frozen by the wintry blast I said, “Bev, I am going to say a phrase, and then I want you to say whatever comes to mind. Okay?”
She laughed. She knows I am a counsellor. Perhaps she was thinking of the word association tricks movie psychiatrists use to reclaim beautiful hysterical women from the crazy-making effects of long-buried memories.
I took a moment to gather strength, to imagine myself wise and resplendent, a paragon of wisdom among all the experts they call on to fill the endless hours of stuffy airtime on Newsworld. Assuming my most authoritative professorial tone I boomed: “Hope changes futures.”
Bev didn’t miss a beat. “Of course it changes futures,” she cried. She didn’t add, “That’s obvious!” But it was apparent that she had been expecting something a little deeper from an educated woman such as myself.
“And how does it change futures?” I asked.
“It makes people not give up,” she replied. “It keeps them going.” Then she gave us a few dozen examples from her own experience just in case we needed convincing.
Why do so many of us tend to start with the idea that hope is intangible, too fragile to stand alongside the facts? It’s not as if we have to choose between hope and reality. We can put them in the same sentence and still have both. Bev faces challenges. But her hope was as solid at the end of her story as it was when she walked through the door. And when she moved on into the meeting in the library that had brought her across our path, she left us standing there at the reception desk, hoping that Hope Week coverage will be a little simpler this year, daring to believe that it can.

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