There’s a big difference.
I was a young teacher of the English language when, one day in front of a class, I realized I didn’t understand the distinction between “I hope” and “I wish.”
This was very long ago–so long ago that there were very few English as a Second Language teachers’ programs. I had sidled into the world of language-as-opposed-to-literature on the sly with my master’s degree in English literature. So there were many things I didn’t really know how to teach.
I had to enter the gnarled, shaded wood of the English language all by myself–feel each knotty branch and follow each distracting twig, trip over every protruding irregular root, get lost 10 times a day–to work it all out so that I could then explain it, as best I could, to my students.
But it was literature that came to my aid, in the end. For, as the myth of Pandora, with her golden box (or jar) and Emily Dickinson scribbling in her room remind us, hope is the last thing we release from the container, whether jar or box, of our souls. Hope is the thing that flutters weakly but never quite dies, the thing that has no words but never fails to feel the heart of the matter. Emily (one always feels that one can call her that, so intimate is her verse) wrote:
‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
Hope is formless. You don’t know what exactly your success will look like if it ever comes. But if you’re still alive, you can feel an inchoate refusal to give up, a willingness to take that one more step just to see if the world looks different from the new angle.
And sweetest–in the gale–is heard
That kept so many warm.
When we lose hope–or the darkness, the storm within us, is unbearable–our reason tells us that there is no use in further struggle. It’s over. But a bird is blessedly unreasonable, and so is hope.
In this travail of our country, it is hard to hope.
But hope is the thing with feathers. I keep feeding my hope with action, and demonstrations, and postcards, and telephone calls that, at the least, nourish it for the next step. And I avoid saying “wish,” because I want to think that my hope for better times is possible.