“But they told you life is hard/ Misery from the start it’s slow, it’s slow, it’s painful/ But I tell you life is sweet /In spite of the misery/ There’s so much more to be grateful/ So who will you believe?”– Natalie Merchant
I choose to believe the voice that says, “Life is sweet.” This speaks to a quality that has grounded my own life and with which I challenge you to ground yours – hope. Albert Schweitzer said, “Nothing can be accomplished in life without hope.”
For me faith, hope and love are completely intertwined – what gives me hope is my relationship with the loving, compassionate, hospitable and nurturing force I call God. I challenge you to think about what grounds your life. It is especially important to consider hope amid what can seem like hopeless times – a world full of suffering, violence, poverty, injustice and despair. But, sometimes, in these situations hope is most evident.
Hope is not just about the future; it is about recognizing the good in the present that also points toward good in the future. Philosopher Simone Weil said: “At the bottom of the heart of every human being there is something that goes on indomitably expecting, in the teeth of experiences of crimes committed, suffered, and witnessed, that good and not evil will be done to her. It is this above all that is sacred in every human being.”
Hope is something at the core of who we are. For me, hope has everything to do with a belief in a loving God. Whether or not belief in God is important to you, I think hope has something to do with a belief in something beyond ourselves.
Theologian Elizabeth Johnson discusses three ways we experience God in the world. The first is in the natural world, what she terms “the Alps experience.” In nature, we get a glimpse of the sacred and feel that such beauty and design must mean that in the grand scheme of things all will be well. Conversely, she discusses the “Chernobyl experience” – named for the nuclear power plant accident. In the devastation of nature, we see that this is not what God has intended. But there is hope that these crimes against nature can be righted.
The second way is through give and take of loving relationships. We see God in others but others also give us a sense of hope – that if we are loved as broken as we are – there must be hope for a bright future.
Finally, we experience God and hope in the macro-systems – the struggle of groups, communities, and societies for liberation from oppression. Hope is present that good and not evil will triumph.
One personal experience of hope relates to the give and take of loving relationships. Seven and a half years ago, my first wife, Allison, died of cancer. Her illness, death and the aftermath of the grief have been profound experiences. After Allison’s death, I wrote that I felt “buoyed up,” kept afloat by something greater than myself. I found that faith, hope and love were intertwined. I felt like I was resting in the loving arms of God. I had a profound sense of hope that my life was not over, but would be full again.
That was not so in the coming months. I had experienced difficulty in life before – the mental illness of a sister, the divorce of my parents, the death of a brother – but this was different. My grief was ever-present. I had lost my hope.
Around that time, I remember reading Paula by Isabel Allende. She wrote this book after her daughter ends up in a coma from a rare blood disease. Allende tells a beautiful story about how she and her siblings would go with her uncle to a mental hospital to pick apricots in the orchard. At first she was reticent about the mental patients, but by the end they were laughing, sick from eating too many apricots, and playfully pelting each other. Whenever life seemed bleak and hopeless, Allende remembered the taste of apricots and knew that life would be abundant again.
This story inspired me to remember the “sweet” moments I had experienced, especially in my life with Allison, and to believe that life would be sweet again. I realize that it really was the loving relationships of family and a wonderful community of friends whose love allowed me to hope for love again in the future.
And it did come to pass. I met my current wife, Ann. I once again have been able to taste the sweetness of a committed love relationship. And with the birth of our son, Benjamin, 20 months ago, life is even sweeter.
My challenge to you is this: Explore what grounds your life in hope. What helps you to expect that good and not evil will be done to you? How are nature, your loving relationships, and the struggle of groups and communities for a more just and peaceful world signs of hope for you?
And finally, how can you be hope for others and let them be hope for you? How can you, in the words of Gandhi, be the change that you seek in this world? I am always inspired by the work students do in the Tutor-Mentor Program – giving hope to someone who may feel hopeless about their ability to learn and allowing them hope about the future. Students who volunteer in VIA, the Student Coalition for Social Justice and other groups create hope in the struggle for peace and justice.
Remember life is sweet, so find hope in the depths of who you are and be others’ hope.
This is a selection from Matthew Maruggi’s “Last Lecture,” a monthly series in which faculty and staff give a lecture as if it were their last. Maruggi is director of the Tutor-Mentor Program and an adjunct instructor in theology. Last fall, students voted him the 2002 Distinguished Educator.