Just a year or so after I graduated from college, I learned that one of my favorite high school teachers had cancer and was very sick. I had very fond memories of this particular teacher. She was one of those you never forget. She was a demanding task master but managed to be fun and funny at the same time. She could make grammar not only seem important but actually make it seem interesting. She would write long responses on our returned papers that had as much to do with how we might live our lives as it did with the content of the paper. Most of all, no matter where you were as a student, you knew she cared about you.
She always seemed to have an upbeat attitude, even when she gave you a bad grade. She just believed that you were going to do better next time and we usually did. She had a huge impact on students, not only from what we learned from the assigned books and our essays, but what we learned from her attitude about life. When I thought I was heading for teaching as a profession, in my early years, she was the teacher I wanted to be.
When I found out that the cancer was in an advanced stage, I realized that I needed to visit her. I was not certain what I was going to find but I knew I wanted to tell her what a positive impact she had had on my life. My first visit was the hardest and I was a little shocked when I saw her depleted body. She quickly put me at ease by saying: “It doesn’t look good, Freddy, but don’t worry, I still have hope.”
I assumed that she knew something I did not know and that she was going to get better. I saw her a few more times over the next couple of months. Each time she would say the same thing when I would arrive. And when I was getting ready to leave, she would often chuckle and say, “Don’t give up on me now, Freddy.”
However, it became progressively more difficult not to give up, and the last time I visited, it was very clear to me that she was not going to make it much longer. Still she had the same smile, the same sweet words and when she saw how distraught I was, she said, “Don’t worry, Freddy, I still have hope that there is a better place when I leave here.”
We had never talked about religion, nor did we this time. But it seemed like a rather childish comment to me at that time. I was in a post-college, quasi-nihilist, and anti-religious period of my life. I thought Albert Camus was brilliant. I left there angry and disillusioned. I equated hope as “wishful thinking,” something we implore when all else fails. I thought of afterlife as token promise to soothe the pain of the oppressed masses.
As time went on however, I began to question if it was her wonder-filled life that allowed her the delusion to have hope in the most negative circumstances or was it her hope that helped create and shape her wonder-filled life? And, I might add, it was a life that shaped a lot of other wonder-filled lives at the same time. Even in her fight against cancer, her hope had made her life a better thing.
Over the years, I began to realize that my teacher friend realized something that I had not grasped in my youth. Her willingness to live in a state of hope was a life decision and a life style. Even though she died a painful death from cancer, she would have been the first to tell you that she had lived a wonderful life.
Today, it is very clear to me that “hope” is not wishful thinking for the weak. It is a positive action that will affect the course of our lives. It is for the strong who are willing to embrace change. For hope is a doorway to positive creative transformation.
Ernst Bloch, 20th century philosopher wrote in an anthology, called The Future of Hope, that there is something called the “structure of hope.” To understand that structure we must realize that “what is usually called reality is surrounded by a gigantic ocean of objectively real possibility.” This possibility is “partial conditionality.” That is, what already exists does not fully determine what will be. Some of those possibilities are “merely wishful thinking, or hocus pocus.” But there are others, he posits, that have that kind of relation to the world “which makes them effective in the transformation of your life and of the world.”
Teilhard de Chardin states that the loss of hope would ultimately destroy the zest for life without which, he suggests, human life cannot exist. He writes, “Ultimately it is this zest for life and that alone which underlies and supports the whole complex of bio-physical energies whose operations, acting experimentally, conditions anthropogenesis.” In other words, without hope or this zest for life, the whole human system collapses-not just your life but the human race-according to Teilhard de Chardin. What an interesting thought that is. Without hope, not only do we lose life, but also we contribute to the cosmic loss of life in the human race.
John Cobb, eminent theologian and “father” of Process Theology, writes in his book Christ in a Pluralistic Age, “The loss of hope cuts Christ ( which he calls Creative Transformation) out from effectiveness in human affairs.” He continues, “Whenever hope is present in history, Creative Transformation, or Christ is present in the world.” In the same book, Cobb posits that the primary message in the Christ story is that there is always hope for positive transformation in our lives and in the world. “Christ is the image of hope!” John Cobb states, without reservation.
Quantum physicists today not only tell us that we are faced every second with an infinite number of possibilities but that our thoughts are a form of energy that affects the outcome of our reality on a moment to moment basis, and therefore, affects the universe. You may not have realized how much power you have.
I suspect, at some level, my teacher friend understood this. For her “hope” was not wishful thinking as much as it was the guiding light for her life. In part, because of her, I came to realize that hope is the doorway to new possibilities, to the “God within” working in our lives and in history. Hope is an action and an attitude at the same time. It is a form of meditation and a way to mediate one’s life. Hope is an indication that God’s creative transformation is at work in us.
We are faced with some significant challenges in our world and in our lives today. Just think. If we remain hopeful, we can add to the cosmic positive energy in the universe and create positive transformation in the world and in our lives. Now that is power.