When I lived in Dublin, many years ago, I would often pass a sign hung outside one of the pubs that always left me wondering if its message was really encouraging or just downright depressing. The sign said, “There is good coming, be it ever so far away.” I would lean this way or that in my interpretation of the sign depending on the kind of day I was having. One day I would read it with mock cynicism, while on another the words would evoke in me a deep sense of hope: Good really is coming. All I need to do is believe.
A few weeks ago my colleague, Susan, sat in on one of the peace heroes classes on the day the kids were learning about Martin Luther King Jr. A little boy, who was sitting next to her in the back row, told her that he first heard about Dr. King when his family was visiting the USA. “I wished so much I could learn about him in Palestine,” this boy told Susan, then he promptly added: “Today, Miss, my dream came true!”
I have mulled over this incident ever since Susan told me about it, wondering why this boy was so keen to learn about Dr. King specifically when he was back home in Palestine. I think the answer is probably quite simple: Dr. King’s story brings hope. In a place like Palestine or Israel, it reminds us that change is possible, when we dare to dream.
Hope is not an abstract concept. It is, for many, the lifeline that enables us to keep moving forward, when the road ahead seems to be nothing but a dead end, or when the obstacles along the way make us want to throw our arms in the air in surrender and say to anyone who cares to listen – “I give up!” Hope, in its quiet and unobtrusive way, says, “Don’t.” “Don’t give up. Don’t turn around and walk away. Don’t believe that what you see before you is what really is. It’s not. There is more than meets the eye. But you have to believe in this invisible goodness before you see it. Believing is seeing. Will you trust in me? Will you trust in hope?”
I write these words as much for myself as for anyone. If I am honest, the journey I have been on with this project has been one of the most difficult of my life. But also, when I have the courage to see it, one of the most astounding, in terms of the goodness it brings. Even as I write these lines I stand at a crossroads with this work that is so daunting it has the potential to cripple me – and the project. This is how it is, when you are trying to get a vision off the ground. On many days the road ahead can feel impossible and the challenges far too big to overcome. On many days I simply do not have the courage to believe that the reality that is staring me in the face is not all there is to see.
To hope, in the face of the seemingly impossible, is like trying to see in the dark. It feels futile, even foolish. The dark is dark, our minds tell us. Squinting harder will not bring the light. But our hearts tell us a different story, if we will listen. Our hearts remind us that the sun always rises eventually; that day will break, and the night will pass away. It has been so from the dawn of time.
This, I believe, is where hope is born: in that darkest hour just before dawn. It begins its life in the place where there is nothing to see. But hope, once it is born, does not sit idly by, twiddling its thumbs and waiting for something to happen. Yes, hope is born in the darkness, but it also rises out of it. Hope calls the dawn into existence, bringing forth the very light it longs for. Hope rises, sometimes in a glorious burst of radiant light, sometimes with a tiny flicker of a candle. But when it comes, however it comes, it never fails to show us the next step, to move us in the right direction, the direction of goodness. This is the nature of hope. It cannot do otherwise. So long as it lives, hope must fulfil its calling.
When I think of it this way I realize that holding on to hope might very well be the most important endeavor of my life – of all our lives. But it is something we have to choose – to choose to believe that whatever the reality around us, there is good coming, be it ever so far away. To believe this, when the road ahead feels so dark, might be one of the hardest things we do. But we do not have to do it alone. There are plenty of others (like every one of our peace heroes) who have gone before us, who have walked much darker roads and have succeeded to hold on to hope in the midst of the most impossible situations. When we are tempted to give up, their stories remind us that the light does come eventually.
As I stumble through the darkness, I remember that hope rises, and holding on to this promise, I carry on.