When I was a young girl, we lived in a three bedroom apartment above the general store. Located in the heart of a small town in the Berkshire valley, the store was a meeting place for the hilltown locals stopping in to grab a gallon of milk or going to the gas station next door. The only Catholic church in town towered imposingly over our apartment from its perched position on a knoll directly across the street. On Christmas Eve each year, my mom, then only in her early 20’s, would move our portable record player onto her bedroom balcony overlooking Main Street, put her favorite Christmas album on, turn the volume up as loud as it would go, and blast Christmas carols out into the tiny town square below.
Even as a young girl, too young to understand the theological implications, somehow, I intuitively caught the sense of holy subversiveness in this act of hers. This holiday message of grace and hope against the odds was not intended to be meted out by the religious elite. It was meant to be broadcast from the apartment balconies of small-town general stores. This was a grassroots hope that was neither pompous nor eloquent. A hope often overlooked and underestimated by those wielding worldly power and influence, but a hope that was the soil for both martyrs and revolutionaries.
Today, as many of us are being told to self-isolate due to an invisible virus, that ironically, also seems to be uniting countries around the world, I am reminded of this hope. Buried in my newsfeed of CO-VID 19 warnings, tragedies, dire predictions, politicized propaganda, were a couple of stories of the best of humanity, of human resilience, of a hope, that ultimately, will have as much to do with getting us all safely through this pandemic as the medical vaccines and interventions.
One story was a short video of nurses in Iran, dressed in head to toe medical protective gear, dancing to music in a makeshift medical tent. The second story came from Naples, Italy, a country in the midst of a pandemic lockdown, that has the normally thronged streets of Rome looking like a ghost town in the latest apocalypse film. In this video clip, it’s a warm Italian night in the middle of an apartment complex in Naples. Someone is blasting an Italian song, and everyone is out on their respective balconies singing to the music and breaking into applause when it finishes.
This is hope. Subversive hope. Hope against the odds. Hope that shows the best of a humanity that recognizes there is something greater, that if we can connect to it, will enable us to rise above. It is the anti-thesis of wishful thinking. Wishful thinking implies a sedentary disempowerment and inability to change the status quo. Hope carries a mandate of active risk-taking. The inspiration for this kind of heroic risk taking is faith in something greater than a self-serving agenda. That is what ultimately stacks the deck in its favor. It is not constrained by a self-serving, ego-centered mission. It is compelled by a love that transcends political divisions and intimidation and even global pandemics.
Greater than the politics that divide us and the viruses that threaten us, is the defiant hope that connects and inspires us.