I Hope So
Here is a question for you: What is the southernmost point of Africa?
If you answered “The Cape of Good Hope,” I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. The correct answer is Cape Agulhas, which is 150 km farther south. The “Good Hope” Cape was not even given that name originally. Its first European discoverer, Bartolomeu Dias, called it The Cape of Storms. But his King, John II of Portugal, later renamed it, in view of its hopeful significance as a landmark toward the ultimate goal of India.
We might, therefore, wonder why the settlement established nearby was named “Cape Town,” rather than “Hope Town.” There have, of course, been other places with Hope as all or part of their name. One of the better-known ones is the small city of Hope, Arkansas, which enabled its most famous son, Bill Clinton, to be known significantly, when campaigning for office, as “The Man from Hope” – just as another man from a town with an equally meaningful name – the Missourian Harry Truman – had proudly been called “The Man from Independence.” This, however, raises in my mind the possibility that some equally worthy politician, if born in a place with a less fortunate name, might not care to be known by it. For example, I think you’d agree that “The Man from Buzzards Gulch” might somehow not have quite the same appeal.
But let’s get back to hope. “Where there’s life, there’s hope,” is a time-worn adage. Or, as Alexander Pope put it in his superb Essay on Man, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”
I say unto you that even where there is no hope, there can still be life – and even a good life. Many or possibly most of us no longer hope for many of the things our ancestors once anticipated in a Life to Come. Yet even without that expectation (which in any case arose largely as a compensation for miserable conditions on Earth), we can still live fulfilling lives.
In the meantime, we attach the word hope to many earthly objects and institutions, from jewelry (e.g., the famous Hope Diamond) to seagoing vessels – notably hospital ships, such as the S.S. Hope, which from 1960 to 1974 brought free medical service to many parts of the world – to health care organizations such as Project Hope and City of Hope, and even to exclusive residential communities, including Santa Barbara’s Hope Ranch. In many cases, these names (like those of the diamond and the ranch) derive simply from somebody whose name happened to be Hope. But regardless of the name’s origin, the word alone carries its own mystique.
That special aura may go back at least as far as the New Testament, with St. Paul’s listing of the three Christian virtues, which King James gives us as Faith, Hope, and Charity. Of course, there has been endless debate about the meaning and implications of these words. Some newer translations favor the word “love” over “charity.” But faith and hope seem to have remained generally unchallenged. They are actually intertwined in the definition of faith given in the Book of Hebrews (whose author is unknown): “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Hope is a word of inspiration and aspiration – even though the great Samuel Johnson, who married only once, and became a widower at the age of 42, characterized anybody’s second marriage as “the triumph of hope over experience.”
But we also have “forlorn hope,” a term which is, or was, applied to any group of soldiers sent on a semi-suicidal mission. That word “forlorn,” which can be defined as “nearly hopeless” was used by Keats to introduce the last stanza of his sadly beautiful “Ode to a Nightingale,” written when he was 24, and had only two years to live. He said the very word was like a bell to toll him away from the magic of the nightingale’s song, back “to my sole self.”
But people who pray have to hope that their prayers are not forlorn. In fact, hoping and praying are often linked in our minds and speech. Prayer is said by many to have great power – which makes me wonder why it tends to be the last thing people in trouble resort to, rather than the first.
And what am I personally hoping for? Quite honestly, at this moment, it is that you’ll feel the time it took you to read this piece was well spent.