May 31, 2024 Paige Nolan

A Certain Kind of Hope

It is the last weekend in May and I sit beneath a beautiful oak tree in Louisiana next to my mom, dad, sister and niece – to watch my nephew, Scott, graduate from high school. The students take the stage in all white, their faces lit by the fading sunlight of the day and white string lights that hang from oak branch to the columns of the front building of their school. With no rain, no humidity – not even a bug – the outdoor audience, including me, cheers and claps and takes in the magnificent sight of each student walking up the stone steps to receive the diploma that marks this monumental accomplishment in his or her life. We are all bursting with pride – not just for the beloved person we came to see achieve such a moment – but for an entire class of people who have achieved this and who will each have opportunities in life because of it.

With the final remarks of the ceremony, we’re on our feet – cameras aloft. No flash needed – graduates are lit up from the inside out and so am I.

I’m not used to the warmth of this feeling – I’m not used to the potency of such lightness, the power of this kind of hope – full-whole-heart-hope.

It’s not that I’ve never felt this way – it’s just that I used to feel this way more often. It feels like a hug from an old friend and a high five from all that is possible in a future I don’t yet know.

I settle in to this kind of hope for the rest of the evening. Scott is joyous. He will leave for college in just a few hours as he will play football and has to train over the summer. His commitment to the here and now is a thrill to behold. He’s just having fun with his friends and that’s all he’s supposed to do. My sister is proud and celebrating – she is at peace with this chapter ending – in her son’s life and in her own. It is a new beginning for both of them.

The hope is undeniable and easy to feel – and we know, all too well, this is not always the case.

Hope is hard work – and I think, as a nation, we’re tired.

How do you keep a full-whole-heart-hope when your heart is broken? How do you get a big enough heart to hold the truth of children being killed in classrooms right next to the hope of children (everywhere) safely thriving in classrooms?

How do you get a heart big enough to hold the reality of war, of corruption, of deception, of abuse right next to the power of peace, the courage of truth, the joy of acceptance, the abundance of being alive?

I don’t think the answer is in the bigness of a heart – the answer is in the openness of one.

We have to be open to a certain kind of hope, a full-whole-heart-hope, if we are going to move with that kind of hope. If we are going to act in a way that reflects our highest hopes.

And that means we have to believe in the miracle of this life, of this world – we have to believe in the miracle of community and change and wellness and nature and creativity and peace and maybe even mostly, the miracle of truth. We have to believe in the miracle of even one student learning, growing up, taking responsibility, and ultimately, graduating – and everything that goes in to making that possible for that student.

Hope is a tricky virtue to maneuver – a miracle may be too dangerous for some to imagine – and that’s why hope doesn’t work alone. You can find faith and love wherever you find hope. In fact, it is these virtues that make hope the instigator that it is.

Faith and love call the shots from a better angle and drop in to protect us so hope can do its thing – encourage us forward.

You’ve got the heart you need to live and love well.

Your heart is, in fact, big enough for the complexity of this life. Your heart is whole enough with all of its bruises and breaks – it is complete the way it is. This is true because our hearts have us here now.  We are where we belong.

Our hearts will always be big enough for the pain we choose to carry – it’s if they are open enough to work with hope, faith and love that counts the most.

Watching Scott graduate and taking in the images of all of *your* graduates these past few weeks has definitely inspired my intention this month: to let myself hope, in the fullest, most wholehearted way. I believe in the power of my faith. I trust the truth of my love.

And I am open to that certain kind of hope the feels like a high five from all that is possible for a future in my life, the life of my children and family, your life and even in the life of this country that we don’t yet know.

I don’t have to go to a graduation to get this kind of hope. I am determined to find it in everyday ways. I’m going to look for it all summer and then in the fall and in the winter after that. I am not going to give up on miracles – because that is exactly what we need right now – not only because we need it but also because young people need to see us believing, hoping and loving and acting with these virtues in motion. After all, having them step up and achieve their own greatness has everything to do with each of us stepping up to achieve ours as well.