Hope is the thing with feathers … or something

Written by Avril

“Hope is the thing with feathers – ” That’s the beginning of an oft-quoted poem by Emily Dickinson. She likens hope to a bird that perches in our soul, singing a melody without words even in the most turbulent storms, and never asks even a crumb from us in return.

It’s a lovely poem, but I see hope differently. To me it looks more like a spark, or a tiny flame that – far from needing anything from us – requires careful tending in order not to blink out.

Let’s face it: we are living in turbulent times. I know that for many people – too many – times are always turbulent. But collectively, globally, this feels like a particularly bleak period in our history. Wars (too many to list). Increasing polarization. A frightening uptick in hate of all kinds. A rise in authoritarianism. Dehumanization of the “other”. Everyone hollering at everyone else in real life and in cyberspace. Fill in your own catastrophe – there are plenty to choose from. And the climate crisis looming over them all. Can I be honest here? Some days that spark of hope seems very faint indeed.

And yet. And yet. Somehow we hold onto hope. It feels like we must. Not a cockeyed “everything will be OK” hope. That feels almost offensive to me these days. No, I’m talking about the hope that is active, not passive. The hope that looks at a world in which everything is most decidedly not OK and takes one action, one step to make it better. The hope that lights a single candle in the dark, and then another candle and another, and then carries their tiny flame to light the candle of their neighbour, creating a brighter and brighter glow with each step.

“Don’t let the light go out,” sang Peter, Paul & Mary, “It’s lasted for so many years. Don’t let the light go out, let it shine through our love and our tears.” We need to tend to the light. We need to augment it. We need to share the light. We need to pass it on.

That’s what hope looks like to me.

So, in the spirit of hope, and in no particular order, I share with you a list of things that bring a spark of light and hope into my world right now:

    • The groups of Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs who, against all odds and in the face of their own enormous pain, trauma and loss, are working together to build a just and peaceful society for all who live in those lands.*
    • The people who recognize and can dance in life’s complexities, who refuse binary, either/or “solutions”, and who can hold apparent contradictions without imploding.
    • The unsung heroes who simply sow kindness in their everyday lives and whose gestures and deeds make other people’s days a little bit brighter.
    • The appearance of the first shoots of green after a long, grey winter.
    • Making music. Especially making music with friends. Especially singing with friends. I think it’s impossible to be angry with someone when you’re singing with them. Maybe we should require people in conflict to sit around a table and sing together. In harmony. Maybe that’s the first step to world peace. What the heck – it couldn’t hurt to try!
    • My beloved community of applied improvisers who embody an expansive, positive, generous, “yes and” approach to life that sees possibilities everywhere and never fails to uplift and bring joy.
    • The ability to laugh in the face of life’s absurdities – and really, just laughter in general. “Where there’s life, there’s hope,” the saying goes. I would add: where there’s laughter, there’s also hope.
    • The sound of birdsong in the trees in the morning.
    • The incredible outpouring of creativity and innovation when necessity gives birth to invention.
    • The way people come together in a crisis, even if only for one brief, shining moment.
    • A beautiful sunrise. An equally beautiful sunset. A big, orange full moon hanging just above the horizon.
    • The fact that artists keep making art, musicians keep making music, inventors keep on inventing, even when society tells them there’s no “need” for what they produce. They know better.
    • The blessing of friendship.

This list is incomplete. I know that as soon as I hit “publish” I’ll think of several other things that give me hope. (Which is a hopeful thought in itself!) But a blog post has to end somewhere, so this is where I’ll stop.

In the spirit of passing it on, I’d like to invite you to share in the comments what gives you hope. It will be read by at least four other people! Maybe even six! I am well on my way to becoming a micro-influencer (yeah, right).

In the meantime, I wish you many sparks of light as we navigate the dark season together – and may the coming year bring us ever more reasons to hope.

* Here are 3 of those groups that I support: The Parents Circle–Families Forum. Standing Together. Combatants for Peace. They are all my heroes.


  1. Tiferet Welch

    Thank you, Avril.

    I received hope, in a significant way, maybe the most impactful way in the last 2 plus months.

    It came at 2 AM on the 7th day of Chanukah.

    I could sleep and was “scrolling”.

    A video of Gazian civilians presented itself. There were about 12, in varying degrees of disguise, calling out Hamas. It seemed to me that Gazans might be feeling less fearful of sharing the oppression and terror Hamas afflicts on its people. (Please, stay with me here.)

    But, 2 or 3 of them didn’t end there. Those few began to express what type of a future they want when they no longer are ruled by Hamas.

    They want religion to not be forced upon them; they want their women to be able to choose to dress religiously, or not and for women to be allowed to ride a bike. They wanted Gaza to become like “Singapore, Tev Aviv or Cairo”; a jewel; a destination location on the Mediterranean. They want to travel into Israel, to see it, for themselves and, while there, to celebrate with an ice cream.

    Those 2 or 3 were my Hanukkah lights! The lights that I want to keep before me as hope for the future, as well. Lights that need to be encouraged, enables and fostered to grow. I don’t know how to get there. But I do know it can only happen because of The Light.

    • Avril

      Thank you, Tiferet. May all people be freed from terror and tyranny – and may the vision of your “Hanukkah lights” come true!

  2. Sherrill Knezel

    Making art with kids always gives me hope! I am in the midst of my last year in the classroom teaching elementary art and you simply cannot beat their unabashed enthusiasm for creating.

    • Avril

      Thank you, Sherrill! Kids + art is always a winning combination, and there are few things as hopeful as watching their creativity bloom.

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