Hope. Good word hope. Only I don’t have so much these days. This week I found a little. And it really makes an impression.
Because it’s hard to have hope.
Turn on the TV and there ain’t much hope there. Especially when you see that the ones who use the word the most and say they have a bunch of it for you are the ones who seem to not have so much of it on hand when it comes right down to it.
Stand at the gate at the airport and nobody seems to give a damn. About anybody except them. Just as soon run over you as anything else. Hit you on the shoulder with their bag and not even say excuse me or anything.
Look around and everybody’s on the phone. Not on the phone like we used to mean it when we talked to each other that way, but just staring with glazed eyes and empty heads.
Plane’s 20 minutes late and the world ends for a lot of them. Some even yell at people who didn’t have anything to do with it.
I just gave a speech a couple weeks ago, and one thing I say sort of as a joke is that I give humans about 60 years before the whole thing ends. Humans on Earth, I mean. Not the planet of course. I went to the Galapagos Islands a couple of years ago. This is a great planet without humans, is what that’ll show you. I have a friend who says we’re aliens. I think about that and the more I do, the more sense it seems to make.
Anyway there I am without so much hope for the long term, and I’m on this plane from Vienna to London to get on another plane back to Dallas and son-of-a-gun, but doesn’t hope just reach over and poke you in the ribs while you’re trying to nap in a seat that won’t recline?
I’m on the aisle, and the kid’s in the middle, and there’s a guy in the window seat who has to get up, so it falls on the kid to poke me in the ribs.
We start talking.
“Oh, yeah, man. Did I snore?”
(See I snore most of the time.)
“Just a little, but not too much.” He grins.
German maybe, I’m thinking is how he sounds, and they speak that in Austria.
“You from Austria?”
“Yes. I’m Etienne”
That’s a French name. His father is French and works at the embassy. They live in an Austrian town called Perchtoldsdorf. (I make him write it down after we talked.) His mother is a massage therapist.
Here’s the hope part.
Etienne is 19 years old and this week he starts six months working at a farm near Leeds, England. He’s never worked on a farm before.
At the farm, he says they help handicapped people work and make and sell jams. When he talks about how important it is for mentally and physically challenged people to get fresh air and work with others and have a purpose, I almost start to cry. Really. This earnest boy has my full attention.
And he won’t get paid; it’s just for room and board and the experience. He had to sing for his supper before, and I’m not kidding about that. He was a member of the Vienna Boys Choir. Toured the world. Traveling boarding school, he says. Four years he was on the road beginning when he was 10.
He smiles when he talks. Very polite. In Austria, after high school, you get to pick a year of military service or community service. He tells me that after his year of community service working in an ambulance — which turns out to be 12 hours a day every other day — he wanted to do something else helpful and get some perspective about his life.
We land and the plane door is stuck. Then the bus that takes you to the terminal is late. People are behaving exactly as you think they would.
Except me and Etienne with some time to burn sit there and talk and laugh and take a photo so I can see what a picture of hope looks like if I ever need to do that.
Ralph Strangis is a writer, actor and motivational speaker in Dallas. He wrote this for the Dallas Morning News. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.