Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Pina Taormina

Street Seens: Heroes of Hope from Mount Olympus to Mud Creek and Far, Far Beyond


Last week while digging out from under the tsunami of paper that seems to be the “meany joke” of the computer era I found two old documents I’d like you to read. Let’s start with them and join me in finding where it took me and where I hope it may take you.

Pandora, the Power of Myth and the Road to Hope

 Opening Pandora’s box is a phrase that means unleashing troubles. It came into the language from Greek mythology. This is the story:

Pandora was the first woman the gods placed on earth. Zeus directed that she be made and that she be given the best each of the goddesses had to offer (beauty from one, grace from another, etc. …. Her name means “all-giving”): When she came to earth, she brought with her a box that she was told not to open.

So she was really, a living gift from Zeus.

Meanwhile, on earth, Epimetheus was quite taken with her. So much so that he forgot the warning of his brother Prometheus never to take a gift from Zeus. Because Zeus remained really angry that Prometheus had stolen fire from the gods and given it to humans. So Epimetheus (whose name means hindsight) only realized after the fact that Pandora was going to mean trouble. In short order, she opened the box and out flew all the troubles of the world. The only thing left inside Pandora’s box was hope.

 Mud Creek’s Mermaid and a new way of Seeing

 THE LITTLE MERMAID OF MUD CREEK (Originally written as an account of a childhood memory).

When I was a little girl I lived in Illinois in a village a Sunday afternoon car ride away from an even tinier farming community where my Father had been born.Those rides often centered on the farm which Daddy had inherited, but never farmed, having fallen in love with the business of automobiles.

 The land was flat and often dry, with great expanses of treeless spaces that were kinder to corn and soybeans than to people and dreams. But near the house there was a strand of trees and running near the house was a small creek which was crossed by a bridge of wooden boards which spoke out its name as the tires of my Father’s sea green Lincoln Zephyr drove over it, saying, “Parump, Parump, Parump.”

 Sometimes I would go back to that bridge to look down at the water and let my dreams move with its gentle flow. There was never much water there, I suppose, and less when relentless Illinois summers took their toll.

 One summer Sunday, I walked to the bridge, dressed in my Sunday best finery. I can’t remember what dress I wore that day, but I do remember the treasure I had at my wrist. It was a stretchy partial circlet of blue pearls with a blue enameled metal rosebud at its center. As little girls will, I moved the bracelet around on my wrist…uncoiling each end, in succession…tempting fate, until fate snapped the trap. With a splash, the beautiful pearl bracelet slipped off my wrist and splashed into the inelegant bed of Mud Creek. I’m sure I wailed and went back towards the house calling my parents away from their conversation with the young couple who were their tenants at the farm.

 The details are dim, but the luminous point of it all will never stop shining as a beacon in my memory. When Momma and Daddy had returned with me and concluded that the bracelet was not to be found, she told me the wonderful and utterly comforting story of what had happened to my treasure.

 It seemed, she said, that a little mermaid lived, out of sight, someplace near the banks of that little stream. She always kept herself hidden from view, but she was there nonetheless and she delighted in the stream and in the very special treasure she found in it this summer Sunday.

 If only we could see, Mother made me understand as she soothed and carried me along with her story, we would observe a beautiful little mermaid, splashing in the water and occasionally coming to rest on a rock near its bank, revealing the wonderful blue pearl bracelet she wore on the shiny, left fin of her mermaid tail.

 What I had learned at the end of reviewing those two resurrected documents included these facts:

  • Myths are not fantasies but as the great Joseph Campbell knew, they are accounts of a shared human experience so deep that it keeps making sense to people separated by geography and history and unites people who have every reason to be divided.
  • And as surely as myth is not just a fantasy, hope is not just wishful thinking. At its heart, hope is a way of imagining. A great Jewish sage told the story of two men sitting on benches in the relentless noonday sun. One looked hot and uncomfortable. The other cool and comfortable, because he had planted a shade tree and was imagining how pleasant it would one day make his bench.

The two documents I happened upon this week reminded me that the indispensable gift of hope is at its heart a way of seeing and a brave way of imagining.

In this season that includes both Easter and Passover, the last misunderstandings of hope can be swept away. And how? By the peaceful recognition that real bravery and daring and strength consist in imagining a better world and working to ensure that it will emerge.

Based on that, I started building an inventory of heroes of hope. Finding the documents was pure serendipity. So don’t be surprised if you find this first, provisional list generates responses ranging from, “Who?” to “Of Course!” to “Why in the World?” It includes robbers and saints; legislators and community organizers; doctors and documents, journalists; theologians, children, adults and whole families.

I hope you know many of them, will discover others and most of all begin to compile your own honor roll of hope.

Dismas, was alleged to be a robber who owned up to his own crimes, apologized to the victim to his left, threw in his lot with him and thereby won a promise of Paradise. Dr. Eben Alexander, who came back from days of flatlining with the conviction that he had to spend the rest of his rescued life recounting experiences of the unconditional love that moved Newsweek to headline a cover story “Heaven is Real.” Each child at a Seder who asks what makes the night different and believes the answer about rescue and renewal. Friends of Van Cortland Park, New York City’s third largest Park, and the Network for Peace Through Dialogue that honored them for turning an urban jewel into a safe and progressive place where 6000 children and adults enjoy educational and stewardship programs. Elizabeth A. Johnson, whose Ask the Beasts inspires hope that ecological care will be at the center of the moral life. Author/columnist David Brooks whose Road to Respect distinguishes the resume virtues from the eulogy virtues in a way that discourages the rise of demagogues and those addicted to celebrity. Lincoln as champion of the Emancipation Proclamation and Pope Francis and his Declaration of a Year of Mercy. The 900 Muslim members of the NYPD, The Amish families who forgave the poor, sad person who systematically murdered their girl children years ago in Pennsylvania. The family of Anne Frank, who were turned back when seeking refuge in the United States and protected their child from the prison of bitterness if not the camp where she met death. Mother Teresa who formed an alliance with the young American president of ORBIS, the airborne hospital of ophthalmology to seek treatment and healing for a child of the “poorest of the poor” and changed Pina Taormina’s life in the process and over years of advocacy. Jean Vanier, son of privilege who founded the unique and respectful L’Arche Communities made up of people with disabilities and those who come to share life with them.

The two documents I found this week told me of the value of story telling and really seeing.  I was reminded that these are two sure signs that heroes of hope are at work in our world.