The Thing With Feathers

Hope seems to be the theme of my day. Though I’m not sure what hope is or what I am hoping for, Emily Dickenson’s poem Hope is tiptoeing around my mind:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,

She seems to think hope is necessary, maybe even eternal, but what is hope?

OstrichThe freedictionary defines hope (the noun) as: A wish or desire accompanied by confident expectation of its fulfillment. The same dictionary defines hope (the verb) as: To look forward to with confidence or expectation. Both of these forms of hope seem to indicate a specific thing that is hoped for, though not everyone who has hope has a wish for something specific.

Hope is also a theological virtue, and hope the virtue is defined as the desire and search for a future good. And yet, as that most prolific author, Anonymous, says: “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; but remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

So hope, but don’t hope? Very confusing, this concept of hope!

For many of us, we have hope of the archaic kind (hope used to mean trust or confidence), but even that definition seems to leave us with questions — Trust in what? Confidence in what? Others of us know hope only by the lack of its opposite — despair, which interestingly, is defined as the absence of hope. (So hope is a lack of despair, and despair is a lack of hope. The epitome of circularity.)

Still, hope is more of a thing, with feathers or not, than simply the lack of something else.

So what are we hoping for when we hope to have hope?

Scott Russell Sanders says: “In order to have hope we needn’t believe that everything will turn out well. We need only believe we are on the right track.”

I’ll leave it at that, and not ask “on the right track to what?” We are all on some sort of journey through life, and the hope that we are on the right track makes hope about today, not some mythical future, and perhaps that is enough.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.