Hope: the word’s certainly out there these days. Lately Obama’s been speaking to charges that his focus on hope shows him to be a head-in-the clouds, silly, blind optimist. No, he insists, the hope he’s talking about isn’t ignorance of challenges or denial of how hard deep change is to affect. The hope he talks about is fierce and involves a decision – conscious or not – to align oneself with positive possibility, not as an idealistic dream, but as a vision to work toward. That work also requires work on oneself: How to be realistic and honest without becoming cynical or full of despair?
In my life I’ve learned the most about hope – the kind of hope Obama talks about – from people whose lives are the hardest: the men and women I know in prison, immigrant children, teen-agers who have already lost many friends and loved ones to the streets.
I thought a lot about this kind of hope as I edited an anthology of youth poems for WritersCorps, the program I work with. Solid Ground came out (from Aunt Lute Books) at the time of the centennial of San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake. In the book’s introduction, I wrote: “The poets in Solid Ground describe the stresses that affect their lives, and the tension that results. They render the strength and compassion born from their efforts to stay steady as the ground beneath them shakes.”
It’s this kind of hope – “accurate observation, as well as strong hearts,” as I wrote in Solid Ground – that I hear Obama call upon.
Here’s a stanza from “Nana Don’t Die,” written by Martrice Candler when she was 19:
My hunger pain isn’t the only one in the world
I hear all the hungry bellies cry
I hear all the women throwing their wings away
I hear the pain in every prayer being whispered
Just to eat and be safe and hear the wind blow one more time
I hear every cheek crinkle when ghetto kids smile
Man they face was frozen in hardship
I hear every crack with that ice break
Nana don’t die
And here’s a short poem that encourages me toward hard hope, fierce hope, every time I read it. Sandro Haro wrote this one when he was 9.
Put me somewhere else
where it is dark and there is no sun,
so I can be bright
and see how well I shine.