Spring brings along with it many things, most powerful of all is hope.
Spring has sprung and the sun is shining in Chicago. Here, we are just starting to see tulips pushing up from the ground after a very mild winter. As I write this, the sun is rising over Lake Michigan – and the month of March is ending. I am thinking about the phrase which has come to define Shimer for me – that we are a community of inquiry, criticism, generosity, and hope.
This is a particular spring when the notion of hope matters for all of us – given the political climate in our nation and our city, the global climate of terrorism, and the challenges facing each of us as individuals. As we approach this year’s April 30th graduation, a bittersweet time bringing closure as well as new opportunities, hope is also important for those of us watching others move from their lives as undergraduates to whatever comes next. In a book recently gifted to me by Rebecca Solnit, she writes:
Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act… Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. It’s the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it will matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. (xiv, Solnit, Hope in the Dark).
What makes Shimerian “dangerous optimists” hopeful, I believe, is a peculiarly Shimerian stubbornness that refuses amnesia – for as Solnit puts it “A memory commensurate to the complexity of the past and the whole cast of participants, a memory that includes our power, produces that forward-directed energy called hope.” (xix).
For me, hope is also rooted in what Peter Berger once pointed to as a glimpse of the transcendent that occurs when we really and truly laugh – that kind of spontaneous laughter that comes with humor well directed. That kind of laughter that is what spring can feel like at its best – an opening into possibility.
As we move forward into Spring 2016, I wish for each of us hope and laughter. I invite you to join us at our April theater production Pullman, WA, where you will see hope in action. I invite you to graduation on April 30th, when you will see hope in action. And, as always, I invite you to the collective enactment of hope that is Shimer – we are made hopeful by your generosity when you contribute, by your wisdom when you advise, and by your presence with us in our community of criticism, inquiry, generosity and hope.