While I’ve made no secret about my feelings around Advent, I will admit to getting a little inspiration from College Park‘s Advent theme this year: “The hopes and fears of all the years”. My thinking is, if we’re going to do this Advent shit, it needs to be… well, needed. And, if we’ve needed anything these past few years, it’s hope.
What Even is Hope?
Inevitably, when the subject of hope comes up, someone will bring up that Emily Dickinson poem. You know, the one that starts like this:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -"
So, maybe hope is a delicate bird for you. It’s not for me, but okay. Honestly, though, I’m not sure how that view could’ve managed to hang on through this multi-year shitstorm we’ve been weathering. I mean, what bird could make it through Trump, the extrajudicial murders of black Americans by police, COVID-19 and all its variants, and the utter insanity that has gripped a frightening proportion of the American public? That shit would have Emily’s “little Bird” plucked, cleaned, quartered, and fried months ago. If it somehow managed to endure this long, it wouldn’t be perching in anyone’s soul, it’d all dirty and bedraggled, huddled in a corner sucking on a cigarette, saying “You don’t even know the shit I’ve seen, Emily!”
Hope is Not Pretty
I’ve never really cared for that poem. Mostly, I believe, because it portrays “hope” as this beautiful and ultimately optimistic emotion. There is some precedence for this. Merriam-Webster says that hope means “to cherish a desire with anticipation: to want something to happen or be true.” I suppose that definition is true. To a degree. But I’m not sure it really captures the full range of emotion.
When Hope Is Necessary
Since this is Advent-inspired, let’s go back to the moment that Advent commemorates: the period just before Jesus’ birth. Picture it: Palestine, 1st century. Jews are feeling the weight of the Roman boot, the majority of people are, in the modern parlance, “food-insecure“, and their religion doesn’t offer respite but instead adds to their suffering with an arduous and complex system of laws that required multiple trips to Jerusalem each year. If anyone needed some hope, it was these folks. And, if Mary’s speech in Luke is any indicator, they didn’t see hope as a thing with feathers either.
But What is Hope???
Okay, okay, I’ll stop dodging the question. And, I’ll answer it with another poem:
That’s What Hope Is
Well, that’s what hope is to me. Like I said earlier, it might be a bird for you. I mean, I don’t see how but you gotta do you. And, there ain’t nothing wrong with that.