When I was 18 years old, I won the National World War II Museum Essay Contest. The prompt was about an Anne Frank quote:
“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
The prompt asked me, quite simply, if I believed Anne. Were people really good at heart? At 18, I said yes. At 28, my answer wouldn’t be so simple. I’ve seen more of the world, and I am more skeptical of intentions than I was as a child.
But then I remind myself it was Anne Frank who said this. If Anne Frank can find hope, all of us should be able to. Also, there’s more to the quote:
“I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”
Isn’t that beautiful? I am so sad that this portion of the quote is so frequently left out. It certainly makes it clearer that this was not the blind confidence of a child, but the deeply sought hope of a girl wise beyond her years. She hoped not because she was certain that everything in the world was good, but because she knew there was no other way forward but hope. No other way to live but to trust that there will be a better tomorrow, if not for you, then for the people who come next.
This, of course, does not mean that we are exempt from living in the moment and doing the work that needs to be done today in order to reach that better tomorrow. A better tomorrow doesn’t come to fruition on hopes alone. But isn’t it easier to do that work when we maintain hope that it pays off? Isn’t that work impossible if we lose hope? I hope, like Anne Frank, not because I am naïve or blind to the hurt and suffering of the world. I hope because it is the only hope we have.
So, then, how do we maintain hope in a dark world? I think we look for places to be grateful, for people who remind us of those blessings. We gather, and we remind ourselves of how far we have come. We look at the things we have worked hard for, and the things we have been given without any work whatsoever. We remind ourselves that even when everything is terrible, there are still good things. There is still reason for hope.
And then, we do the work that our hope asks of us. We do not rest until the blessings we have belong to everyone.
We hope and work and pray and act and gather and protest and make art and speak out and listen and we don’t wait for a better tomorrow to happen. We make it happen, together.