Holding on to hope in a dark time

Joe Pisani bemoans the endless cycle of shoveling snow.

Joe Pisani bemoans the endless cycle of shoveling snow.

Joe Pisani /

Whenever the world seemed to be crashing around me and I’d be cursing about the latest atrocity at work, the latest family strife, the latest personal indignity — whenever any of that happened — my friend Peter would pause, wait until I finished grumbling about my sorry state and quietly say, “We live in hope.”

“We live in hope? What exactly is that supposed to mean?!?” I wanted to yell. “There is no hope! There’s only despair!”

Of course, I was wrong and he was right, which took me a long time to admit. Now, I have a clearer understanding of what hope is. Now, despite everything happening in our families, our communities, our country and our world, I too can say, “We live in hope.”

I certainly don’t want to say, “We live in despair” or “We live in anger” or “We live in fear.”

What is hope? The poet Emily Dickinson, who lived a sad, solitary life, gave one of the best definitions I’ve ever heard: “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul” and never stops singing no matter what happens. She wrote:

“‘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 chillest land;

And on the strangest Sea,

Yet never in Extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.”

Hope is that little bird that perches in our soul and never stops singing even in storms and the hardest times, and keeps our spirit warm in the growing cold. In the Gale, I’ve heard Hope singing, and this is what it sounds like.

A friend who is in recovery has been attending AA meetings on the Internet because sharing with others keeps her from picking up a drink. Another has been delivering groceries to an elderly invalid aunt. Another is working in the intensive care unit at Yale New Haven Hospital. Another is texting old friends she hasn’t talked to in ages, just to make sure they aren’t alone and afraid in the Gale.

People are walking around our neighborhood who I never knew lived here, and they stop to ask if we are OK. We’re getting calls from others we haven’t heard from in months and years. Last week I got a call from a college classmate who lives in New York City. He wanted to know how I was doing and we caught up. Inspired by their concern, I developed a call list of people to check up on every day.

We live in hope.

Like many others, I hung a string of Christmas lights around my bedroom window and watched them blink during the night. They reminded me of when I was a kid and would sit in the living room staring at the colored lights on our neighbor’s house. I always got great comfort from them because they made me believe something wonderful was going to happen, something that had nothing to do with Santa, something that had everything to do with hope.

We live in hope.

Hope doesn’t tell you everything is going to be fine, but hope is there when you think you’re lost in the storm even though you’re not lost at all.

I recently talked to an old friend who I’m sure lives in hope. She’s a Sister of Mercy, who at 80 is still working and going out to get her groceries and prescriptions. While she was at Stop & Shop early one morning, she let another woman get ahead of her in line. It was a simple act of kindness to a stranger. When Sister reached the register, the cashier told her the woman had paid for her. In return, Sister told that woman, who was a stranger no more, that she would pray for her every day.

Hope is the thing with feathers that never stops singing.

Joe Pisani can be reached at joefpisani@yahoo.com.