Tuesday, October 30, 2007

On Hope

I have a cousin who fought in the Easter Rising of 1916. I don't know much about him. I don't know his name, or how he is exactly related to me, but it is a family story that on that Easter Sunday so long ago, he strapped a cold, gray rifle to his back and marched into the city streets of Dublin, knowing that the day Jesus rose from the dead could well be his last day on this Earth.

Over the centuries, many had cried and lamented and wished and hoped that one day, one fucking day, Ireland would be free. My cousin, well, somewhere down the line, he stopped hoping for a free state... and decided to make a free state. He took it upon his shoulders, as did Joseph Connolly and Patrick Pearse, for as they raised that Green flag of Ireland in Dublin Square, they lowered the noose onto their veritable necks. They knew this. They did it anyway.

Hope is a word that is thrown around far too carelessly today. People hope for things when they should be changing things.

"I hope I get a better job."

"I hope I find a better mate".

"I hope I can fix this."

My friends, I do not knock hope. It is a powerful thing, perhaps the most powerful of things. It kept Edmund Dantes alive in the depths of his cell in the Ch√Ęteau d'If, and burned through Frederick Douglass' veins on his race to the North. It glared in the steel heads of the sledgehammers that shattered the Berlin Wall, and flashed in the swords of Brian Boru. It runs thick and deep, and lies in the heart and soul of every oppressed people in all the world.

What it is NOT, however, is a catchphrase. Hope is for those who have nothing left, who have no strength left in their taut muscles, and therefore must resort to believeing (often somewhat irrationally) that some miracle will happen, that some great cataclysm will occur, and change their situation. Hope is for when all other avenues have not only been exhausted, but for when they have become barricaded and wired to explode and have cannons pointed straight down the cement.

If you have the power to change things, then you must do it. Don't hope that it happens, because hoping is equivalent to a begrudging surrender and a dependence on a higher force to do it for you. There is nothing so useless as a hopeful dreamer.

Emerson once said, "Your actions speak so loud that I cannot hear what you say." Like Randle McMurphy, you must put your hardened fist through the spotless glass dividing your current life from the life you want. There are many who can play poker all night and stay in the game, but when it comes to the one hand that they could take the pile, they fold under nerves and pressure, and choose security over victory. You could lay down your hand and lose, or you could fold it... and then what happens? Nothing. And that is the worst fate of all.

The only difference between my cousin and the other few million people in Ireland was the fact that he was willing to take the chance, to try to accomplish the impossible dream. That is what heroes are. They are not superhuman, nor are they born with some extra gene that endows them with talents that are beyond comprehension. They are mere mortals, but mortals that have a sense of conviction, a sense of urgency, and a sense of truth. They realize that their feelings, their lamentations, their voice, is not wrong, no matter what anyone does to attempt to brainwash them otherwise. They realize that their thoughts have relevance, and that they are all too aware of the miserable, anonymous fate that awaits them should they say nothing, even in the face of overwhelming odds. There is nothing in the world that will shut down their cries, and the cry is, as always, for all of us, "Freedom! Happiness! Equality! Truth!" We wish to live how we want, to love who we want, to believe what we want. If we do not have this, then struggle will ensue, and like all good things worth doing, it will be hard and it will be desperate and senseless, but the right side will always prevail, for the spirit of a person with such convictions cannot be broken by bullet or chain or whip or word, but only by a surrender of the indominable will.

The future of all things lies in your hands, in your fists, for though there may be many billions of people, what you do counts in a way that you must understand. The human spirit is forever marked by the need for freedom. Yours is no different. The only difference between you and anyone else, between you and the warrior poets and heroes of the generations, is how far you are willing to take it, how hard you are willling to fight. Look at your hands; they are strong hands. Do not underestimate them.

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