Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Thing With Feathers

Whilst perusing the online news sites on the first morning of this new year, an opinion poll happened to catch my eye. There it sat, on the right hand side of the home page of CNN, sandwiched between the grimmest sort of headlines, one simple question: How do you feel about the coming year? Only two answers were available: Hopeful? , or Hopeless? After clicking my choice, I was curious to see the results of everyone else’s answers, and smiled in amazement at what I saw. Overwhelmingly, and in spite of the surrounding sirens of tangible woe, almost everyone had cast their vote for Hope. I nodded at the resiliency of the human race; at our never ending belief that we can achieve a better day - that we are nobler, kinder, smarter than our present circumstances might suggest. We remain ever hopeful that we can, and shall, rise above and even, dare we say, soar. And truly, what greatness has ever been achieved without that thing called Hope?

I have thought a great deal over the past year about the man Martin Luther King. What would he be feeling in this first month of the year 2009, as America stands proudly poised to inaugurate her first African-American president? He who had been insulted, jailed, jeered, then murdered, for daring to hope in the better natures of the American people. He who had dared to dream. It brings tears to the eyes and indeed, shame to the soul for the one who chooses to set down the precious burden of hope when the weight becomes too heavy.

For some of us, hope is a lyrical embroidery that flows through the tapestry of our very natures. We are sewn together with its shimmering threads. For others, Hope is much more of a conscious choice, and sometimes a difficult one. As we all set off through this year late in the first decade of a new century, our journey is not unlike any adventurous expedition of old. Like explorers before us, we never know what might lie just around the bend. But, where there is an end, may we all see a beginning, may we turn our challenges into opportunities, make the choice to replace doubt with faith, and when there is death, may the Hope of new life be made real.

Emily Dickinson so eloquently described Hope as “a thing with feathers”. As I write this, fat little birds are watching me just outside my window, fluffy and cheerful. Despite the remarkably cold afternoon, there they sit, tiny and serene on my windowsill, occasionally lifting up a tune; not the least bit bothered or fretful. I can easily see the basis for Dickinson’s poetic description. For in the midst of the world’s current gales, this perennial presence of hope is a most sweetly feathered thing indeed.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

by Emily Dickinson