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  • Writer's pictureHeather Simmons

"Hope" is the Thing with Feathers

Emily Dickinson wrote this poem back in 1891, but I find that despite the massive changes our world has seen in 127 years, the sentiment and optimism are still just as relevant today. I memorized this poem back in high school, and still often quietly speak it over myself whenever I feel like losing hope. It always, always shifts my thinking and turns my day around. It's a short little diddy:

“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.

For most of 2017 I felt as if I was on that Gravitron ride at the fair, where you buckle in and the ride starts turning so quickly and with so much force that every part of you gets glued to the wall due to the nature of G-force. You can even feel your face sliding back towards your ears in some weird gravity-induced-face-lift stunt. It felt like that in my personal life, work life, and it felt even more like that in a social and political sense. Every day felt like someone was turning the speed up a notch. At times, the only hope I had was that things couldn't get any worse. Can you identify with any of that?

So far 2018 feels like the ride has come to an end, and that slowly gravity is realigning to its normal state. We can take a breath. Our safety belts broke during the ride last year though, so we all ended up crashing to the floor when the G-force subsided. Our purses overturned and our hair needs fixing. Social mores and norms have been jostled and shaken, and we just can't seem to get them to fit back into our bags. Things like sexual harassment and abuse, racism, sexism, bias, and gun violence are things we just refuse to stuff back in. So now we've got a lot of cleaning up to do. Meanwhile, we're still dizzy and nauseated from the Gravitron.

In both years of this county fair scenario, I've needed loads and loads of hope. One for hope in humanity. For hope in our lawmakers and our society in general. For the hope in Christ to heal and deliver. Things got carni-level crazy and it stunned us all. The second - this year - I need hope that we can make changes. That we can find resiliency and strength to do the work that makes a difference. That we can pick ourselves up off the proverbial fair ride floor and do all the things we need to do to make sure 2017 crazy never happens again. Hope that anger and frustration and outbursts will give way to compassion and equality, not bitterness and exclusivity. Luckily, Emily's little bird is an unwavering badass.

The idea that we all have a little bird perching inside of us - a wellspring of unyielding hope everlasting - is the most refreshing thought ever. The bird sings its song regardless of circumstances. The strongest of seas and storms don't silence the little bird. I imagine she doesn't get sick on fair rides either. No matter what we're going through - merely hanging on or ready to get to work - she's there for it and never stops singing. The happiest bit of this extended metaphor appears at the very end: "yet never in extremity, it asked a crumb of me." Turns out hope is one reliable and independent gal, never depending on us to nourish her or care for her in any way. This is great news when you have nothing to give, no ounce of energy to share. Her singing is not dependent on our listening.

Whether we're glued to the wall or ready to pick up the pieces, she still sings. The gale has ended and the winds of 2018 are blowing in a new direction: a direction in which hope sings even louder and clearer than before. I hope we listen. We'll be the better for it.

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