-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
One of my favorite movies of all time is “Tender Mercies.” I can recite whole segments of the movie, because I’ve watched it so many times. The story is the story of Mac Sledge, who had been a famous country singer, whose life is torn apart by an end to his marriage, fueled by alcohol. He wanders from one place to another, from one drunk to another, without hope, until he wanders into the lives of a young woman – widowed by her soldier husband – and her son. He arrives, hopeless.
Needing to repay the young widow for a night in the hotel she runs on a bleak country road, he agrees to work around the place, in exchange for a place to stay and meals – and in exchange for not drinking. She feeds him and he works. We begin to see the place improve, and we watch Mac Sledge develop an honest, kind relationship with Sonny, the young widow’s son. Mac Sledge stays, and he and the young woman marry. In the course of his new life, his teenage daughter appears, wanting to see her father. Soon afterward, she is killed in a car accident, and Mac Sledge returns to his former home for her funeral. He gets a glimpse of what his life had been.
Heartbroken and grieving, he returns to his home with Rosa and Sonny. He thinks about his life. As he grieves, he asks questions: “Why am I still alive, my daughter dead? Why did that happen?” Why, why, why, he asks. His wife Rosa listens and leaves him to his ruminations. Their lives continue in their silence, pain, and beauty.
“We gain strength to live toward something not yet visible. This strength is called hope.” – Martin Schleske.
Hope arises in this man’s life. Hope arises in us. Hope is in us. We cannot manufacture hope, but hope is something intrinsically human. Hope is part of us, something present – or not present – in human beings.
I often think of my ancestors, who came to the United States with nothing, to find a new life. As many of you know, it is not easy to come to a new land, to live new ways, with new people, a new language. It takes all a human being may have, in many cases. When I think about my ancestors, illiterate, who arrived in this new land with nothing, I think they must have been motivated by hope.
Whatever my grandfather’s dreams had been, his hopes were not fulfilled. I don’t know if he thought the streets were paved with gold, but he did not find gold. He was poor. He worked wherever he could find work. He died on a street corner, in the cold. I cannot fathom what life he must have left, what kind of life he had in his own land that was unbearable enough to leave. And still, he had done it. He had given his children and grandchildren – he had given me – a new life.
We use the word, “hope,” so readily: “I hope it’s sunny tomorrow.” “I hope I get the car I want.” This is not hope. Hope is something deep, something a person can live – and die – for.
Elie Wiesel, peacemaker, wrote of his survival in Nazi Death Camps in Germany during World War II. He survived until the end of the War, his father died only a few days before the Allied Troops liberated the people. Wiesel wrote of the terror, the horror of those camps. He wrote so that we might never forget what happened there, how human beings treated other human beings. This is what human beings can do to one another. This is what has happened. This is what we lost. This is what we know.
Hope is something solid, something you can stand on. Hope kept Martin Luther King, Jr., going. Hope kept Elie Wiesel going. You find hope in a shared story. You find hope in community. And you find hope inside of yourself, inside of one another, inside other human beings.
“We gain strength to live toward something not yet visible. This strength is called hope.” – Martin Schleske