“Hope is the thing…”

Yesterday was another cold, rainy November day. A day for the couch and repeated naps. But there I was, out and about, wearing my bright blue raincoat. First stop Starbucks where I sat in the caffeinated warmth, tapping away on my laptop, putting thoughts on screen. Then on to meet a friend for lunch. She was reluctant to go out but succumbed to my assertion that soup and baked goods would do us both good. Unfortunately, the cafe was out of soup.IMG_0168

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul”—that line sang in my brain as I drove the rainy streets. Hope has been knocking on my door recently, let me in, let me in. I open the door warily and keep the chain on.

Over the past few days, I’ve been getting tweets from a conference for elementary and middle school educators–the theme of the conference is “hope.” One tweet quoted John Dewey: “Hope arouses in us the energy to change our circumstances, not to simply be optimistic or have wishful thinking that they will get better on their own…” Hmm….I need to sit with that one. Hope arouses energy—but don’t we need energy to hope?

I often use “hope” the same way I might use “wish” or “pray”—I look at tall trees swaying in strong wind at the back of the garden and say I hope they don’t get blown down and fall on my house or I write to a friend who’s been ill, I hope you get better soon. “Hope” in those statements has no agency—it’s a plea, an incantation set free.

But “hope arouses in us the energy…” asks me to think of hope as a muscle that needs exercise; an intention that requires action. Hope is not just a thing with feathers; it’s a thing with strong beating wings and heart.

Another tweet: In hopeless times, how do we foster hope in ourselves?

I think of myself as basically optimistic—and as I key that in, I immediately think “privilege,” I think “white,” “middle class,” I think back on a long history of things generally working out for me, of my sense of agency. But as I age, that optimism and belief in my ability to control and shape the future is tempered and challenged.

Where does hope fit in? What do I hope for? In hopeless times, how do we foster hope? What can I—we—do to counter hopelessness?

I’m tempted to end this with some wise or insightful statement, something forward looking. Instead, I sit with the questions. All I can offer is a circle back to the opening scene—on a dark, chilly wet day, we put on bright colors, step out the door, and connect—with our thoughts, our friends, the world around us. 

Rain then sun

Tuesday’s chill, dark rain sank me, drowned me. I drifted through the gloom, semi -reclined on the couch, bright yellow throw over my legs, streaming video on the laptop. Anyone peering in the front window would have thought I was ill and maybe in some soul space I was—not exactly ill but tired, damp, moldy.

I got up from the couch to make lunch, run a quick errand, make supper, do some minimal tidying up. I did not read a good book, make soup or bread, sweep up the leaves I’d tracked in from the front walk, do any of the items on my to-do list, exercise, meditate, write. I tell myself I need these down days but I’m not sure that’s true.


I think of my sister every day. She’s hard to reach by phone these days. She’s sleeping a lot and not always making sense when she’s awake. She’s slipping away from me, from us. Last week I wrote her a letter and emailed it to M to deliver. I’ll do the same this week.

I think of her everyday but especially on a couch day like Tuesday when her image hovers like a warning, my last view of her as I left her in late October, lying in bed unable to tend to herself, bathe, feed, turn over in bed. She’s so frail and weak. She sleeps, wakes, sleeps again. I whisper to myself to move, to use my strong enough body, my agile enough brain while I can.


Light returned. Two crisp, clear, sunny days. My to-do list still languishes with items unchecked but I got off the couch and out into the world. Walks around the neighborhood, dinner with a friend.

Yesterday, mid-afternoon, I went into the garden to empty some pots, put away chairs, cut back the rose bushes. As I walked around the house and into the back yard, crunching through leaves, I startled a Barred Owl—it soared across the backyard to a new perch in a pine tree near my compost pile, just above the garden cart I needed for my clean up tasks. I walked toward the cart as quietly as I could, not wanting to startle the owl again. It sat there as I retrieved the cart and went about my clean up tasks then flew off again, toward the field behind my house. 

I dumped the accumulated dirt and plant debris onto the compost pile and walked back toward the house slowly, stopping to look and wonder at the light glinting through yellow leaves on a Norway maple.