Watching and Waiting with Hope and Millie

Things are always looking hopeful for Millie, the cartoon-like dog that lives at our house. She’s a mid-size ball of shaggy gray hair, who mops up every twig and blade of dead grass in her path. She has tilled up a nice patch of ground running along the chain-link fence in front of the house, sounding the alarm to neighborhood passersby, which actually is more of a plaintive cry inviting them in for a playdate. But when the old Honda Odyssey van begins its approach down North 8th Street toward the house, her hopes soar. Whatever else is happening, with the possible exception of a treed squirrel, Millie begins a delirious run around the yard in search of a ball, her mauled plastic baseball bat, or any other toy or toy substitute into which she can sink her teeth, and brings it to me cheerfully expecting a quick tussle or game of keep away in the backyard. It doesn’t seem to matter to Millie that most of the time I hurry past her hopeful exuberance, as I dash in to grab something one of us has forgotten, or I hurry inside because I am freezing, or tired, or just can’t be bothered to take a minute to play. Yet, day after day, she responds with this steadfast hopefulness. I am moved by this. The world feels like a sad and scary place to me right now. It is hard for me to be hopeful with any steadfastness. The news is filled with violent acts, sobering statistics, and pessimistic predictions. We don’t even have to tune into the media to hear that news; there are sad stories all around us, on the very streets where we live. I don’t want to feel hopeless about the future, but lately that has been the easier path.

I have not as an adult been much of a TV watcher, but have lately taken to streaming some shows on Netflix. I was thinking about the contrast between that and how I watched when I was younger -- the waiting week after week for what was going to happen next. I don’t think I could watch like that anymore. I probably won’t watch any of these series in real time, now. I don’t want to wait for next week’s episode to appear. I know we talk often about our culture of instant everything. I have even written about our inability to wait. But I haven’t really thought about it in connection with hopefulness. And I think there is a connection. That week in between episodes was one of dreaming and imagining and wondering. Our minds couldn’t help but consider all the possibilities that might happen next week. There was a chance that the star would pull through, or be rescued at the last minute, or finally fall in love. Or at least we could hope.

Millie, the dog, spends much of most days waiting for us to come home and join her. She can’t control when things happen; she can only wait and with cheerful expectation watch for the thing she wants most of all. And when opportunity presents itself, she springs into action. But there is much waiting involved. An expectant waiting. Hope.

I want to make things happen. I want to make a difference. I want to see change. I don’t want to wait. And when it doesn’t work out the way I want, I lose hope. Or maybe I have just forgotten how to hope. I have forgotten how to wait and I have forgotten that hope by its very nature requires waiting.

So while I wait with renewed optimism, looking for opportunities to spring into action, I have been watching for things that inspire me to be more hopeful.

Here are a few of those things:

• Each morning I head out early to give a pre-K neighbor a ride to Head Start. I am touched by the parents and grandparents and others like me happily signing in these novice students, escorting them through the breakfast line, opening milk cartons and disposable cereal bowls, cutting up pancakes with plastic sporks, and otherwise settling in their little ones for a day of learning. A number of young fathers are among this number, and in light of the discussions regarding so many absentee fathers these days, the tender gestures of these present fathers have surprised and encouraged me. Their fist bumps, secret handshakes and goodbye hugs and kisses and even a final farewell wave through the cafeteria window, make me smile and feel hopeful.

• Two weeks ago, a group of neighbors came together amidst busy lives and demanding schedules to talk about revitalizing our neighborhood.

• Last Monday, a diverse group of about 250 Abilenians joined in a commemorative march over the MLK Bridge, to celebrate the progress made by Martin Luther King Jr. and so many others toward the pursuit of justice.

• One of my neighborhood teens, has spent a good bit of time at the local Boys and Girls Club volunteering, wanting to give back to the organization that helped mentor him as a youngster. The workers there nominated him for a Local Heroes contest and he was recently featured in our local paper. He has been working hard to submit applications to the national Boys and Girls Club youth of the year competition. He is a respectful, hard-working young man, and I was pleased to write him a letter of recommendation.

So, maybe these aren’t exactly cliffhangers, but Millie and I are excited about the next season.