My mother and her parents are buried in Kennebunk, in Hope Cemetery. It strikes me as both appropriate and ironic that one’s last resting place be called “Hope.”
Hope is where you find it. Here are some other places, beyond that graveyard in the heart of the village of Kennebunk, where I find hope.
Stuffed shirts belittled Richard Simmons. The dyno-mite from New Orleans came onto his TV weight-loss show in red-and-white-striped shorts and a muscle shirt for which he was not sculpted. He danced, led exercises, hugged overweight people and chirped nonstop. The overweight and formerly overweight — many of us, self included, fit both categories — couldn’t get enough of it. Some shows, he must have been kissed 100 times.
Other stuffed shirts turned up their noses at Oprah Winfrey. She was simplistic. It was all about Oprah (speaking of people who are both overweight and formerly overweight), she didn’t take on tough topics, she stroked her own image. All may be true.
But she also put heroes on camera. People who teach life skills after school to reservation Indian kids (South Dakota), a man who hires young people with criminal records to work and develop kitchen skills in his restaurant (Texas), a man who set up an organization to help wounded veterans deal with their new reality (Florida).
And she puts her own money where her mouth is. She finances a school in South Africa for girls living in disadvantaged homes. She has put $12 million into scholarships at Morehouse College in Atlanta, a historically black college for men. Not to mention building 80 houses in Mississippi and Texas after Hurricane Katrina, giving $6 million to the Boys and Girls Club in her hometown, or $1.25 million to help kids in Afghanistan.
Richard Simmons gave people hope that they could lose weight and become healthier and more confident. Oprah Winfrey gives people hope by showing us folks who have stepped up to help other people and by her own direct gifts to ease the hurting.
On Dec. 3, I got my own shot of hope when I attended Christmas at Luther in Decorah, Iowa. The performance at Luther College consists of six choirs (400 singers), a full orchestra (nearly 70 players), a dozen and a half bell ringers and readers. When they sang The Huron Carol, among more than 20 pieces, and later as the dark hall was slowly illuminated by 400 singers, each lighting a candle held by the singer beside her, my skin goose-bumped. Mine were not the only wet eyes.
We attended in 2014 and 2015. Marilyn, wearing a nice suit, said in ’14 that she felt underdressed. At Luther, formal dress apparently means a Norwegian sweater. So, in ’15, I got her a Norwegian sweater. After she died in June, the sweater was the only nice piece of her clothing that I did not donate to Goodwill. I gave it to my younger sister, who wore it to Christmas at Luther 2017.
Christmas at Luther aims to celebrate the hope that many find in the season. I find just as much hope in the beauty of the voices, the instruments, the bells.
Come Thursday, I will be in Boston to see the University of Maine women’s basketball team play Boston College. We have followed the Maine team since 1997, and not just for the love of the game. There is also the love of what the game does for young people. Maine’s players can create on the court an athletic ballet of coordination, skill and energy.
A friend in Chesterville told me this story. Last month, she and her husband were in South Carolina for her mother’s 100th birthday. They walked into a restaurant the same time as 11 (mostly) tall young women. An older woman with the young women told her charges to wait while my friend’s party was seated. My friend thanked them and told the young women why her party was there. After the meal, the young women sang Happy Birthday to the new centenarian. In English, French and Spanish.
The young women were the basketball team of Kennesaw State University in Georgia. After singing, the team gave my friend’s family tickets to their game against Presbyterian University. That was Nov. 21, and Kennesaw beat Presby 60-51, its first win of the year. By the way, UMaine beat Kennesaw five days later, 75-39, in Miami. Presbyterian, as it happens, is coached by Todd Steelman, who used to be associate head coach at UMaine.
The 500 kids at Luther, the 13 players at UMaine and the 11 players at Kennesaw all work hard to create something bigger than themselves. They learn to fulfill dreams by working together, by getting a bit better every day, by taking joy in the successes of others, by disciplining themselves to achieve more than just getting by. How many of us at that age realized that we were not the center of the universe?
These musicians and athletes are among those who will take over our world. In them I put high hope, assured that our country will be in good hands when their time comes.
Almost every day, I walk at the UMF Recreation Center. Two miles a day. I’m among perhaps three dozen old fahts who walk that track, at speeds varying from swift to crawl.
Some days, I see a youngish woman with one leg come to work out in the weight room. She moves just about as fast on aluminum crutches as I move on two legs. Other days, I see two young men who are greatly overweight. They come in together, go through a drill that seems appropriate for their condition. In time, they can lose the weight. A couple of times, people in wheelchairs have come in and rolled to the weight room.
If a woman missing a leg, two men likely in the 300-pound range (each) and folks confined to wheelchairs can hope to improve their physical lots at the gym, then I, too, can find hope there. I look for these folks to come to the gym every day.
They give me hope. And hope is never out of season.
Bob Neal believes seeking hope every day is a worthwhile lifetime project.