New Year’s Day is typically viewed as the start-over holiday. We make resolutions, promise to leave bad habits behind, and move forward with good intentions.
For me, Easter has always been the holiday of new beginnings. There’s a sense of joy on Easter, a sigh of relief that we made it through Lent, perhaps giving up something that we enjoyed or using those 40 days as a time to volunteer and reach out to others. And if we performed those acts of kindness without posting photos on Facebook, then just maybe we learned something about humility.
Growing up, we signaled that spiritual rebirth with our new Easter clothes – a spring coat (a topper now all but obsolete), white shoes to mark the onset of spring, and, of course, an Easter bonnet, a rare sight except for the traditional Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue.
I’ll still wear something colorful, but not new, on Easter. Old habits die hard. But what I truly value these days are my relationships with family and friends, reaching out with a phone call or email. Yet I still find many I care about holding onto hurts from years even decades ago. I visualize these grievances as huge burdens, weighing down body and soul. These negative feelings become a vortex, sucking in others around us, thus damaging their future relationships and inadvertently continuing years of misery for all involved.
Forgiveness is never easy. But we have the best possible example ever to follow on Easter. If we forgive others, then maybe, just maybe, we will be forgiven, too.
Even as I write those words, I conclude that a gerund just isn’t up to the challenge. It’s the lovely conjunction of Easter and Passover, so I want to write about Hope. That requires an active verb. Something with muscle, with courage. Because Hope is hard work. But so worth it.
The kind of Hope I celebrate today is many things. Here are some signs that will help you tell the real thing from the counterfeits. Running through them is the image of light. The lunar calendar reminds us that the great celebrations of hope are dated from the appearance of the Full Moon and the number of days that follow it and the coming of Spring. Hope then is a lightsome thing. A brilliance that comes to banish darkness.
For starters, it is as different from daydreaming as thinking about the need to exercise is from going to the gym and doing it; as getting on the bike and pedaling; as getting into the pool and swimming those laps. At its best, hope moves us to do something and not just think of how good it would/will/might be to do it.
Hope is forward-looking, but the goal should be neither myopic nor measured in light years. And the validity test is that it usually involves taking some kind of action. It is the hunger to sit in the shade on a hot day that comes with today’s planting of a shade tree; or pricing and ordering the retractable canopy to install above the patio table. Wishing that you had done what your neighbors did three years ago definitely doesn’t qualify.
Hope is courageous. It is the decision of bereaved parents to donate their child’s organs so that other people’s children might live. It is the military veteran’s acceptance of a prosthetic limb and the determination to walk again.
There are heroes of hope, but be aware they are more about overcoming real reluctance than Hollywood hype. They include the Moses who had a moment of Hollywood ending when the basket in which he was floated to escape a purge of Jewish children came to rest near a royal enclosure and he became a Prince of Egypt. But that didn’t last and soon this reluctant hero was recruited by a God he only heard, but never saw, to go back to where there was a price on his head and galvanize thousands of people to follow him and thereby escape slavery. At a time when he probably didn’t even know whether he was a failed Prince or one of them, he had to figure out how to be eloquent in spite of his speech impediment and convince these masses as reluctant as he, to follow him to a better life. And when, some four decades later he didn’t even get to go with them into the promised haven, he didn’t whine or sulk.
Or consider the reluctant hero who gave up his carpentry practice to walk the byways of a divided land wracked with political divisions and convince the people he met that this essentially homeless man was telling the truth about a better life. That it was within their reach and didn’t involve overthrowing one despotic regime for another. He was betrayed by his best friends, picked a successor who turned out to be an abysmal failure but to whom he never said, “You’re fired.” Since hope often calls for bravery, in the course of meeting a deeply degrading end, He was even brave enough to express some passing hopes that He could be spared its tragic ending. But setting a high bar for the greatest of heroes, He kept to the script, met its demands, and never lost His gift for loving even the unlovable.
But lest we be discouraged, or lose sight of the road immediately before us where most of the demands for hope are met, let us recall that all of the demands for hope that are met are to be celebrated and applauded. Tales of tragic heroes and heroines should not make us forget that Hope often involves humor. One of the infallible signs of its presence is the ability to laugh at ourselves. It happens when having over-promised and under-delivered we can see the situation for what it is and understand the wise advice from John Chancellor which I invoked in our very first joint exploration of “Street Seens.” Remembering it as I remove the current egg on my face I hear again the words, “if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” So, I join in the Divine Good Humor and am reminded that, a good laugh is one of the languages of hope.
With renewed respect for the gerund I devalued, here’s hoping that in the words of a favorite Irish toast come true for you as I wish, “May the best days of your past be the worst days of your future.”