This Thing Called Hope

Photo by Ronna Jevne When Hope Cafe officially launched in December, 2011, I asked Dr. Ronna Jevne if she would consider writing the first feature article and was thrilled when she agreed. Ronna is the most ambitious ambassador of hope I have ever known. Her extraordinary work as a professor, author, psychologist, researcher, group facilitator, and more, has benefitted not only countless ordinary people and health care professionals but also the field of psychology. Ronna is also a terrific photographer (see one of her photos above) and Hope Cafe's 'hope photos from around the world' initiative was inspired by her. I am deeply grateful to Ronna for her ongoing support of Hope Cafe! Donna By Dr. Ronna Jevne  Welcome to Hope Café. It is a daunting task to write the inaugural feature article. What might best be offered as a starting place for sharing thoughts and resources about “this thing called hope”? The temptation is to share stories and moments that I have observed in three decades of counselling that attest to the power of hope. There is the woman sentenced to life for murder who described herself as locked in the “bowels of existence”in solitary confinement only to discover that scratched into a corner of her cell were the words, “Where there is hope, there’s life”. That was a turning point for her taking baby steps back to the life she had lost. There was the young mother who, knowing that she was dying, left a legacy for her two small children on a video. There are the Stephen Lewis grandmothers who creatively and practically assist the grandmothers of Africa. In each of us there is a story of hope. In 1992, we opened the doors of the Hope Foundation of Alberta, a research center affiliated with the University of Alberta, dedicated to understanding and enhancing hope in individuals, families and institutions. The Foundation offers counselling to the hope deficit, trains professional in hope-focused practice and pursues a variety of research projects related to hope.  For two decades, we have had the priviledge of witnessing firsthand the power that hope has in the daily lives of ordinary people. When I began to study hope, I read passionately across numerous disciplines only to discover there were a wide range of views about hope. Since the myth of Pandora, scholars have argued whether hope is a blessing or a curse. The views have ranged from German philosopher and poet Nietzsche who declared it “The worst of evils for it prolongs the torment of man” to American psychiatrist Menninger who was adamant it was “an indispensible factor in treatment”. We ridicule those with too much of it and we hospitalize those with too little.  It is dependent on so many things, yet  indisputably necessary to most. Words can destroy it. Science has neglected it. A day without it is horrible. A day with an abundance of it guarantees little. Those with it live longer. Hope is not only a concept. It is a “lived experience.” So often we only notice hope by its absence, when we are living in uncertain times. This summer, in a period of six weeks, my husband required emergency life threatening surgery, my only surviving sibling who might be described as Mr. Fit had a surprise heart attack, my son-in-law was in intensive care, my best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, my maid of honor of thirty years ago who has remained so special in our lives died of lung cancer and a serious storm did $40,000 worth of damage to our home. Without hope, I am not sure how I would have navigated these emotional landscapes. I must not only understand hope, I must practice it. When hope becomes a practice, something we take care of as routinely as we do dental care, the likelihood of being present in constructive ways for ourselves and others goes up exponentially. Reflecting on hope one day, I wrote: “Tell me of hope.” So the scholars mused and the theologians struggled. The linguists quibbled and the philosophers argued. And all were puzzled. She said again of others, “Tell me of hope”. So the nurse said it with compassion, and the dying grandmother sang it with her eyes. The mother cried it with her tears and the brother tied it to the tree. The cancer patient knew it with his soul And none were puzzled. As I grew increasingly more familiar with the existing literature about hope, I wrote “I have a dream…” as my personal vision statement. Perhaps this dream will stimulate discussion at Hope Café as visitors reflect on their own thoughts about hope. I have a dream that one day we would understand hope well enough to reach those with the deepest of despair, well enough that each child and parent, each student and teacher, each patient and doctor, each person -rich or poor, wounded or well, would envision a future in which they are willing to participate. That despite hardship and uncertainty that they would say “yes” to life. Not “yes” only if they are employed, well, loved or educated but “yes” to the very condition of being human.  For this we need a commitment to hope. I have a dream that every child would know hope as a companion throughout life. That every person would know where to look for hope when it fades. That each person who stands at the edge of hopelessness can step back intentionally. That we will be part of encouraging  those moments when it is unquestionable that someone has taken a step towards hope. Albeit a small one.  I dream of places  where young and old, employed and impoverished, well and ill, join in a search for hope. Where wounded bodies, heavy hearts and weary souls exchange their despair for hope, their fear for courage.  For this we need a practice of hope. I have a dream that the three h’s- hope, health and happiness, would take their place beside reading, writing [...]