Open the door of wonder for others : Give them hope | Sunday Observer

Open the door of wonder for others : Give them hope

I suppose it happened when I was around 6 or 7 years old. The mother of a family not far from us had died, and the father, often drunk, was unable to care for his children. So, a lady in the community had taken one of the boys to live with her. Widowed, she nevertheless had love and energy to spare for the child. Almost overnight, he began to change. But, one thing held him back: because he was strange to us, none of us would play with him.

One day, his foster mother caught us ignoring him while he stood on one side, sour-faced and rejected. She sent him into the house and then turned on us. “I won’t have it!” she stormed.

“That child matters a lot to me. I am trying to see that he’s going to be somebody, and every time I get him ahead some inches, you children push him back. Don’t you want him to live a good life?”

Decades have passed, but I have not forgotten the incident. It was my first brush with the profound and painful knowledge that people heal, and people destroy. We help or hinder one another, summoning one another to grow, or to surrender and retreat.

Give in

Throughout my life I’ve seen how our individual influence can be profound. Some people have a proven flair for transmitting powerful messages to others to regard life as pointless.

They are gifted at getting others to give up or give in. Such people may have faced hardships for which they cannot be blamed, or plagued by parents who shrank from life. Whatever the reason, they are stiff and cold; they kill others’ dreams and paralyze their hopes. Under their critical gaze, achievement dwindles, confidence vanishes, and fear takes its place.

We are helpless in their presence. For example, think of a man often jeered by his wife. “You call yourself a man?” she cries when he is unable to earn as much as she wishes. Think of a young wife struggling to learn to cook while her husband rewards her efforts with remarks like, “You’ll never learn” or “Why don’t you just give up?”

When we are with such people we feel already defeated to face life, though we thought we could. The danger lies not only there. If they invite us to give in, the invitation goes through us to others. Because they stifle the life impulse in us, we choke it down in the presence of the next person we meet.

Life givers

But, what about those splendid, unforgettable people who offer us hope to live our lives? With them, we grow and are continuously renewed. They create waves of energy for us to ride on, and urge us to develop all that we are or can be.

When I was in my teens, I had a wonderful English teacher who taught with such a glow and love that none of her students ever forgot her.

When she read our compositions in class, we’d see her face light up with delight. Best of all, she encouraged even the smallest flicker of originality in us. And when the criticism came, it would be under the life-giving guise of “We can make it better still. We can go deeper still. Let me help you”

Growth

The playwright Edward Sheldon was a famous American dramatist in the 1940s. He was another gifted hope-giver. At the age of 30, Sheldon was stricken with a progressive arthritis so devastating that he became totally paralyzed and eventually blind.

He reacted by inviting others - all the amateur dramatists, script writers and story writers - to see him with their scripts. By the score, they made their pilgrimage to his bedside; all went away more alive than when they came. Listening to them with total attention, he would advise them how to fine tune the scripts.

Wrote author Anne Morrow Lindbergh: “One went away refreshed and stimulated with a hundred new paths shooting off in the mind, and the quiet certainty that there was infinite time in which to follow them.”

Wouldn’t we all choose to be like them - these kindlers of hope? How do we acquire this most precious of gifts? The important thing is, make clear our own attachment to hope. We give hope only when we have it; instead of being self-conscious about our enthusiasm, instead of trying to hide it, we use it to open the door of wonder for others.

Dr. Albert Schweitzer used to say, if we would give hope to a person, we must accept the “otherness” of that person. We must hear out his dreams, not dismiss them with saying “no.” Above all, we must see what is best in him and render it and nurse it to grow.

For growth is the very insignia or badge of every living creature, the heart of the hope process. Remember - hope is a growing tree, not a statue.

The offer of hope then is the offer to grow, to be one’s self, to enjoy life. A person lives as long as he experiences his hope as having meaning and value, and as long as he has something to live for. As soon as meaning, value and hope vanish from a person’s life, he begins to stop living; he begins to die.

Hope

We are living in perilous times, but they are also open-ended, stimulating and full of opportunities. The people who offer us hope to live meaningful lives, want us to come out of our homes to do what needs to be done.

We genuinely “live” when we are true to ourselves, authentic in our feelings, responsive to our convictions.We live when we love the world, when we are involved in the lives of others and when we are committed and concerned.We live when we build and create hope in others. 

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