Hope: Reflections on the 2019 AhFest Theme by Foley Schuler

It is, the poet tells us, a thing with feathers. For something that “dies last”—and “springs eternal”—it is often exceedingly hard to find. Yet, there it is, in the most surprising places. Utter darkness and despair is where it is usually born. To live, it needs to be needed. When Pandora opened the infamous forbidden box that now bears her name, she unwittingly unleashed a multitude of harmful spirits upon humankind. They scattered far and wide, searching for souls to torment, inflicting plagues, disease and illness on the world—sowing the seeds of greed, envy, hatred, mistrust, sorrow, anger, revenge, lust, and all manner of despair along the way. Yet it was waiting patiently in there as well–a healing spirit named Hope. It lies at the heart of all human aspirations. Indeed, it is the lifeblood of any revolution, of all striving for human and civil rights—and just what gets us out of bed in the morning…and through the day, not to mention the long night. To some traditions it is cherished, while to others—Norse myth held hope to be the slobber dripping from the mouth of a monstrous wolf—courage without hope is the highest ideal.

As I begin sketching these notes, it is April 15, 2019–a tragic day in our history. The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris has caught fire and is burning before our eyes. The spire and roof have just collapsed. And yet as I, with the rest of the world, watch in shock, horror, agony and despair, the destruction of this transcendent icon of beauty and mystery, beloved around the globe, there is something already glimmering within those embers, and stirring in the still smoldering ashes of our grief. Could it be? Hope? Already, even as the fires still rage, there have countless calls to rebuild. (Indeed, several months later, as this essay goes to print, it has been reported that workshops are being held at a Parisian high school less than three miles from the cathedral, where young stone carvers are being trained in the age-old techniques required to rebuild the 900 year old edifice.) I wonder what phoenix may be testing its newly-formed wings as you read this–for it is on such wings that the human heart, when least expected, so often suddenly finds itself soaring.

Please join the Muskegon Area Arts and Humanities Festival in October, 2019 for a month-long celebration of the arts and humanities exploring this mysterious force in our lives—what Cioran calls “the normal form of delirium” (yet who among us would ever want to live without it?) and Emily Dickinson that which “perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.” We HOPE to see YOU at this year’s AhFest!