“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
— Emily Dickenson
After almost two years of relentlessly bad news — about the economy, foreign affairs, domestic politics and a worldwide pandemic that keeps evolving new ways to terrify us — it might be logical to expect people to feel hopeless about another new year.
But a recent survey of Americans found something extraordinary.
According to a poll taken in December by CBS news, “Most Americans feel hopeful when looking ahead to 2022. Seventy-one percent of Americans say they personally feel mostly hopeful, while just 22% feel mostly discouraged. Most Americans feel hopeful regardless of how they feel about the past twelve months, though those with a happier outlook on the past year (86%) are more likely to be hopeful than those who view the last twelve months with sadness (59%).”
Which brings up the question, Haven’t these people been paying attention over the last couple of years?
Perhaps they have. But as another poet said, “Hope springs eternal in every human breast.”
And perhaps their views are not so surprising or singular after all.
For Paige Hartmann, a mental health counselor with Thriveworks Counseling in Attleboro, the results of the CBS poll align with what she sees in her practice.
“In my experience, I would agree with this statistic. Several of the clients I treat are beginning to feel increased hope for the future, whereas there are some clients who continue to struggle to find hope and a sense of peace,” Hartmann wrote in an emailed response to a query from The Sun Chronicle. “These clients may worry about the spread of COVID, work related issues, providing and caring for their families, and finding their place in our ‘new normal.’”
Hartmann, 33, has a bachelor’s degree from Bridgewater State University and a master’s from Assumption University in Worcester and has worked in the mental health field for more than 10 years. She says not all the people she counsels are upbeat, of course.
“The clients who are continuing to feel less hopeful tend to express worry most about their health and their families’ health (and) safety, financially providing for themselves and their families, job loss, securing employment, and how divided the country has become politically and where they fit in the world,” she wrote.
And talking to a counselor can help, she adds.
“Clients tend to gain hope by working in sessions to shift their focus and perspective onto factors they do have control over. The feeling of loss of control has led to a lot of fear in individuals. When clients regain some control within their own personal situations, this tends to lead to increased levels of hope for the future for themselves and their view of the world.”
Homilies of hope
This year, Christmas arrived around the world amid a surge in COVID-19 infections that kept many families apart, overwhelmed hospitals and curbed religious observances as the pandemic was poised to stretch into a third year.
But, as the Associated Press reported, there were homilies of hope, as vaccines and other treatments become more available.
Pope Francis used his Christmas address to pray for more vaccines to reach the poorest countries. While wealthy countries have inoculated as much as 90% of their adult populations, 8.9% of Africa’s people are fully jabbed, making it the world’s least-vaccinated continent.
In the Christian tradition, hope is one of the “theological virtues,” given to people by the grace of God. St. Paul writes in his First Letter to the Corinthians that “And now abideth faith, hope, charity....” Hope’s opposite, despair, not just a lack of hope but an active rejection of it, is a mortal sin in Catholic theology.
“For the Christian, hope is our greatest virtue,” the Rev. Rodney Thibault, pastor of the Transfiguration of the Lord Roman Catholic parish in North Attleboro, wrote in an email.
“When we open our hearts to Christ, He fills us with everything we need. As we turn the page on 2021 to welcome 2022, despite the fears that seem to be plaguing us due to the surge in COVID-19 cases as the omicron variant seems to be wreaking havoc, I am hopeful that more people will come to realize that the vaccinations are safe and effective and get immunized so that as a country and indeed as a world, our lives can return to normal. Despite the negative attitude of some, I am hopeful that as a nation we will recognize not our differences but what binds us together.”
On the fourth Sunday of Advent, just before Christmas, Thibault preached a homily about joy. “Everything leading up to Christmas forces us almost to ignore the real reason that we celebrate this time of year. In doing so, we lose what we should be focusing on, namely, why we should be filled with joy and spread it. When we are filled with joy and share it with others we have a real reason to hope, so I guess a change in attitude is what I am most hopeful for as we usher in the year 2022.”
For Pastor David Meunier of the Plainville Baptist Church, his own sense of hope for the future, he writes, is strong, “because it is not grounded in the unstable circumstances of our time. If the news is bad, I still have hope because it is fixed in the unchanging hope of the good news of Jesus Christ that promises life to all who believe.”
He added, “My personal hope for 2022 is that this promise of Christ’s gospel will find its way into the hearts of many in our country without hope, so the joy that comes from a relationship with God will abound to His glory.”
Tim Sullivan is the president of Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro. For him, there’s a ready source of hope at work.
“I remain hopeful and positive because I work with kids, who are relentlessly hopeful and resilient,” he said in an email. “My hope for 2022 centers on those kids, that all of our schools can remain safe and open. The students need it, and I know we can do it well.”
Gloom and angst
Of course, if you want to find gloom and angst, you need look no further than social media.
Responding to a question from The Sun Chronicle, some 75 Facebook readers took up the issue of whether they had hopes the upcoming year will be better than the past two. Some hoped for an end to the pandemic and more vaccinations. Several of the responses were bitterly partisan, expressing hope for the defeat of one or another political view. There was also one, ironically enough, hoping every household “boycotts all News Media” while on a newspaper’s Facebook page.
But Joyce Hayman-Devolve, who identified herself as a retired nurse from Attleboro, had this to say: “I hope we care about one another again. I hope we are less self-absorbed and are more willing to extend a hand to those in need. This thread is not helpful with my wishing as I do. Ugh…”
Local officials’ hopes
Some area leaders had specific, and very pragmatic, hopes for the new year. Justin Parè, president of North Attleboro’s town council, has one particular hope in mind, one shared by fans of North Attleboro High Big Red football, that “the North Attleboro vs Attleboro Thanksgiving Day Football game will be held at Beaupre Field, with fans, seated at max capacity — in our newly completed bleachers and facility — and that of course, North Attleboro wins the game!”
He also, in an email, expressed hope that the council and Town Manager Michael Borg reach their goals of “improved transparency with the launch of a much improved website and livestreaming our meetings on Social Media, upgraded and expanded athletic fields for boys and girls youth sports, and moving forward with the development of a new senior center.”
Attleboro’s Mayor Paul Heroux replied to a query from The Sun Chronicle with a long — and detailed — list of his hopes for the coming year, including finishing the new high school on time and on budget, building a performing arts pavilion at the former Highland Country Club, as well as more renovations and rehabilitation of downtown. He also has high hopes for more sidewalks, an expanded police traffic unit — and conversion of cruisers from gas-powered to electric vehicles — and more sleeping accommodations at the downtown fire station.
And by the way, add to the list, “I’m hopeful that we will be able to do the feasibility studies for the council on aging and the giant public safety complex. We will actually just start them but unfortunately we will not see them finished.”
He added a hope for fiscal year ‘23, “a smooth budget transition.”
He included a hope he is, well, not so hopeful about. “I’m hopeful that Covid will finally get under control although I am not optimistic about that.” He said he believes the virus will be with us for the next two to three years. “Caution to avoid spreading viruses and this one in particular will become a new normal.”
But the mayor, who is serving what he promises will be his third and final term in the corner office at City Hall, also added, teasingly, “I’m hopeful that I will run and win another office, although I’m not saying which two I am currently looking at.”
Adam Scanlon is finishing up his freshman year as a state representative. His hope is to work on his legislative agenda. Scanlon, D-North Attleboro, also wrote he hoped “people will continue to support local community organizations, small businesses and local veteran populations in the region as we recover from the pandemic.” He wrote in an email that his hope is for “delivering resources for the district” along with expanding vocational education and providing additional senior tax relief.
He also had a personal hope, “I hope that we can return to seeing more live in-person performing arts shows.”
State Sen. Paul Feeney, D-Foxboro, knows there are challenges but has hope. "I know it’s hard for many to find hope these days, and I certainly feel the frustration as well. From a broken health insurance system to unaffordable housing, an environmental crisis, and a shrinking middle-class, we have a lot of issues to face head-on in 2022," he said in an email. "But forever the optimist, I believe in the resilience of people to come together in times of crisis. My sincere hope for the New Year is that we establish decency in our discourse and return to common sense thinking, and respectful conversations not plagued by bitter politics, divisiveness, and false information. I know we can get there and believe we can come out of these tough times even stronger."
And on a personal note, he says, "I also hope that Mac Jones is the Super Bowl LVI MVP in February!"
Still, many are still stuck with less hopeful attitudes. The Attleboro YMCA last month asked people via Instagram to share their 2021 big wins so they could celebrate them — and no one posted anything in reply.
Hartmann, the mental health counselor, says those attitudes can’t be simply dismissed. She writes that when clients are feeling hopeless, “I help them to process their emotions first and let them know that their feelings are valid.” But she also helps them “identify areas in their life that they are grateful for. Identifying areas of gratitude is helpful in shifting clients focus from negative to positive; thus beginning to instill hope in them.”
She added that, “it has been a struggle for everyone since COVID hit in 2020. We are all in a state of repair and rebuilding ourselves. If you are struggling, please do not hesitate to seek mental health services.”
And some are coping with more than just their emotions.
At a reception center for asylum-seekers in Cyprus, Patricia Etoh, a Catholic from Cameroon, told an Associated Press reporter she did not have any special plans for Christmas because she had to leave her 6-year-old child behind.
But she added: “We’re grateful, we’re alive, and when we’re alive, there’s hope.”