At a recent Nobel Peace Prize Forum at Augsburg College, epidemiologist Dr. William Foege,  (the physician responsible for eradicating small pox) said hope is a placebo effect in people’s lives.

(Some quick definitions:

Hope is more than mere optimism.  It includes the idea that something better is expected.A placebo is something that goes beyond what science can explain.  Some definitions include the idea of patient belief.)

In Greek mythology, Pandora opened a forbidden box and released all kinds of evils into the world.  At the bottom of the box was hope…the only positive attribute in the box.

In Christianity, hope is considered so important that it is one of the three greatest theological virtues (faith and love are the other two).

I have struggled to see hope as a strong word.  “I hope so,” was often said to me with such a lack of confidence, almost as a word of last resort.  Hope never seemed very active.

Often popular depictions of hope seem a lot closer to despair. My grandmother had a print of a famous painting by George Watts, called “Hope”.  As a child it looked to me like a drowning woman on an island.

Emily Dickinson compared hope to a bird.

“And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm.”

Perhaps hope doesn’t need to be as active as the other virtues.  Perhaps all it needs to do is keep people warm, even when the cold tides of despair seem to be closing in.

After all, people’s situations sometimes improve where science has no answers.

And placebo effects are just as real as hope.

May we all pursue our paths, finding and giving hope along the way,