According to Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel,
Just as man cannot live without dreams, he cannot live without hope. If dreams reflect the past, hope summons the future.1
Hope is a powerful thing. It energies us in the present. Hope compels us to labor against all odds, believing that a new, glorious and different future can and will emerge.
But hope is not without its problems. While hope summons the future, at the same time it acknowledges that the future (which is presumably better than the present) is not yet a present reality. As such, hope can be energizing in that it beckons us to move toward that new, different and emerging reality. Hope, however, can also lead to despair, as hope forces us to recognize that there is a gap between what is and what will be.
Hope can be existentially troubling in that respect.
At times it can feel as if the gap between present and future realities will never be closed. It may feel as if very little headway is being made. And in those moments it is incredibly easy to become critical; to despair and wonder “why bother?”
Without hope, without the belief that things can and will be better, we have no reason to despair regarding the present. If the present is all that there is, if there is only today, then there is no burden to pursue a new and different reality that is yet to be realized. But if there is a better reality that is waiting to emerge, if we have hope that things can and will get better, then we have a burden (and possibly a calling) to do all that we can to summon that future by doing all that we can to drag that future hope into the present (even if we can drag only a few bits and pieces).
Mother Theresa got this — “The needs are great, and none of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.” Slowly and incrementally, through the small things, we drag the future into the present.
Confucius and Lao-Tzu also understood this — “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Rather than despairing of the present, may we resolutely do the small things and take single step after single step toward the future that we hope for.
- Eli Wiesel shared this thought in his Nobel Lecture, “Hope Despair and Memory,” on December 11, 1986. ↩