Dobie: Hope springs eternal -- but has limits, too

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Ducks on Argyle Lake in Babylon Friday. (Feb.

Ducks on Argyle Lake in Babylon Friday. (Feb. 3, 2012) Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

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Michael Dobie Michael Dobie is a member of the Newsday

Michael Dobie is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

I generally am a hopeful person.

I was raised that way. I was taught to believe the world could be a better place, and we could play a part in accomplishing that. That there would be obstacles along the way, but that we could overcome them. That's the essence of hope.

For the hopeful, this is an auspicious time of year. Easter and Passover are holidays of hope, vibrating with parallel themes -- resurrection and deliverance, rebirth and salvation, new life and new growth.

These are the motifs of spring, too, which finally seems to have joined us after a long, hard winter. The asparagus is poking through the warming soil, the forsythia is blooming, the goldfinches are back at the feeder.

I remember biking to the ballfield as a boy at this time of year, hopeful that with another year of practice and hard work I'd be able to catch up with a good fastball and hit a curve. Some hopes die hard.

Sometimes our times are challenges to hope. The news can fill us with despair. But there are other stories that inspire, in which people triumph over difficulty because they hoped, and that in turn give us reason to do the same.

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Stories like the one from Afghanistan in which millions of people, hopeful of a better future, defied threats from the Taliban and lined up to vote in that country's presidential election.

And more whimsical stories, like the one from Babylon Village about alewives returning to Argyle Lake for the first time in more than a century, because hopeful people built a fish ladder to bypass a dam . . . and the alewives discovered it.

I, too, am hopeful that we, as individuals, will continue to make a difference in each other's lives in times of crisis, digging through mud or snow or piles of rubble, running toward a bomb blast instead of away, tackling a young man with two knives in the hallway of a high school.

I am hopeful that we, as a society, will find a way to reduce the violence that is our plague and rebuild our collective house, now awash in guns and mentally ill people in need of treatment and too many signals from all corners of our culture that violence is a way to solve problems.

I am hopeful that we can rediscover civility in discourse, and on website comment boards, that we can debate and disagree without insults and name-calling, that we can recognize that our opponents might have something worthwhile to say.

But there are limits to my hopefulness. I have no hope that the people who run Nassau County will solve its financial problems or that the politicians who inhabit Washington will do anything.

I've always been fascinated by the presentation of hope in Greek mythology. It appears in the myth of Pandora's box (which actually was a jar, but never mind). Pandora, the first woman on Earth, is given the box by the gods with instructions never to open it. Insatiably curious, as we all would be, she opens it -- and all the illnesses and evils hidden there by the gods escape into the world. The only thing left at the bottom of the box is hope.

The story is meant to explain the origin of evil. The conventional wisdom is that the gods gave us hope to help us deal with evil. But I think there's a more subtle lesson. Lumping hope with every conceivable ill, and then leaving it all alone, feels like a warning -- that hope alone isn't worth much, that hope without action is a kind of evil unto itself.

What I hope for today is that each of us finds something worth hoping for, and does something to make it happen.

"Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come," Tennyson wrote.

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Let's make it a better one.

Michael Dobie is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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