Each time someone stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others…he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. — Robert Kennedy
Hope got me through. A light during some dark times—well before the pandemic and marriage and kid. Hope was a packed suitcase in my closet as a teen. It was the horizon beyond my front stoop. Hope held the promise for a better day ahead, even a better moment. It was a way out. A reprieve.
I’ve always had hope. I know the magic of it—how it can raise a person up and out of a devastating space, even if that space is only in the mind. Hope blows open prison cells, constrictions and confined spaces. Hope equals freedom—untethered, like a helium balloon escaping for the stars.
I thought I knew all there was to know about hope. I still have much to learn.
My lessons began in the early days of lockdown last year as daily checkins with my baby brother and twice daily calls to my shut-in 90-year-old mother. We kept the stories light. We spoke of old movies, of hearing our neighborhood’s 7pm shouts of gratitude from the fire escapes. We talked about food and all the things we were eating or making. We shared our hope for feeling safe and keeping each other safer by not visiting. We drowned out the sirens with dance parties and family zoom nights. We lifted each other up so that none would fall victim to the weight of the world and all of her sorrows.
Sometime before the summer solstice of that year, I began a newsletter called The Hope Experiment and invited any willing participant to join. All the newsletter asked of the reader was that they share five hopes they had for the coming week. Some of these ‘hopes’ would be chosen for the daily Hope Experiment Instagram page where they would be posted anonymously and where anyone could comment, adding hopes of their own.
By my third newsletter, we had readers as far as South Africa and Australia. Ten subscribers became twenty, twenty became forty. As the hopes started pouring in, there was, no surprise, a common theme surrounding COVID. The first post was written by a 50 year old in Brooklyn: I hope that someday soon I will be able to hug someone so long and hard that they ask to be let go.
We started to find an audience. As the experiment evolved, hopes turned toward kids being able to return to school in the fall. And hopes for being with loved ones at the holidays. And then the tide began shifting toward politics and hopes for change. Without getting overly political, the experiment became a platform to openly wish for a sensitive candidate, an end to gun violence, a revival of civility, and a jumpstart for a weary democracy.
Some of the simplest calls for hope touched me the deepest; like one from a 72-year-old in Long Island hoping to be able to play ping-pong on the dining room table. Or from a 51-year-old in Milan hoping we never lose the pleasure of smelling a flower.
As the hopes reached the 500 mark on Instagram, the pace began to slow. A couple of participants wrote that they were having a hard time keeping it up, week after week. Others wrote their hopes sporadically. And someone close to me just quit, altogether.
I admit there’s a certain energy required to hoping. I find it way lighter and loftier than the energy that goes into fretting. But when one is weighted down with worry, lifting even the lightest pen to write can feel like an impossibility. That’s when hope is needed the most but it appears it’s not as readily available to everyone. To some, hope feels non-existent.
I had a rude awakening with one comment on Instagram which surprisingly came from someone self-described as “Truth Seeker.” It was Week 30 and she left a comment on the post saying; “There’s no hope in this fkd up world now. Sad but true.”
Yes, that would be sad if it were true. But there is some telling irony in the notion that this hopeless Truth Seeker found her way to our Hope Experiment page.
The Hope Experiment began with the intention of collecting hopes over the course of a year. It feels bittersweet now that I’m writing this during the close of Week 51. Just one week left and what an extraordinary ride it has been. What started with the pandemic is now ending with COVID numbers dropping sharply and not one, but three, effective vaccines. This past year has seen the loss of family members, dignitaries and RBG. We watched an insurrection at the White House, a tumultuous election and sadly, more people of color dying at the hands of the police.
This experiment has taught me a lot. I can easily say that I’m still as committed today to hoping for a better day tomorrow as I was when I was small. I know that hope begets hope because I’ve watched it catch like wildfire with all of the inspiring comments on Instagram along the way. I have learned that no hope is too small. A desire to eat yummy food feels just as valid to the one wishing it as does hoping to find the perfect job.
To date, we have 1,945 personal hope submissions. Aside from the commonality one could glean from the posts, as well as the humanity, these hopes offer some insight into how, during the most trying period of most of our lives, a few of us have hoped and fared. Should a girl like me, some hundred years from now, face another Spanish flu or mass contagion that forcers her into shutdown, she might stumble upon The Hope Experiment and see what people of 2020-2021 hoped for. And perhaps, it will beget more hope.
As I write this, perusing the hundreds of hopes on Instagram as I go, I am moved. I’m grateful to everyone who chimed in, who raised the vibration, who lifted our collective spirit. Reading through the comments, one can’t miss the symbol of praying hands that appear over and over again. Even for those who don’t pray, I would offer that hope is its own kind of prayer—an ask to the universe. The Hope Experiment is coming to an end after this long year, but praying for better days is here to stay. Hope, after all, is everlasting. It’s what got me here.
Then again, no one has said it more simply, or beautifully, as Maya Angelou. “Hope and fear cannot occupy the same space at the same time,” she wrote. Her suggestion: “Invite one to stay.”