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Elders: Taking Stock of Our Lives

A TGB Reader Story: Hope On Top of the World

By Gloria MacKay

I still hope: for sunny days; for my other pearl earring to be in the drawer; for my doctor to say see you next year; for my hair to perk up. I know how to hope, but never with the abandon I would have allowed myself if I had not grown up with that woman looking down on my head.

Hope hung in the living room over the couch for so many years she made her mark on the wall, framed with burnished wood finished to look like metal she was an eerie sight: a woman draped in sepia, olive drab and slate gray, head in her hands and legs sprawled over a big, equally sepia ball. I would glance up every time I walked into the room.

I watched when my mother lifted Hope off the hook and set her on the floor, leaving a clean rectangle on the wall as exposed as a patch of skin after you rip off the band aid. I crouched on the carpet as she turned the picture over and pointed to a sticker embossed with fancy gold letters. Hope On Top of the World she read as she turned to me. “This is what Hope looks like.”

I jumped up and ran to my room, my mother’s voice following me. “Don’t be silly, She’s not real. She’s just a picture.”

I was the age when Santa Claus lived within me in the comfortable limbo between real and make believe but I could not be this accommodating with Hope even when she lay face down on the carpet with her sticker showing. Credentials or not, I kept one foot in my room and peeked out the door until I saw her back on the wall where she belonged.

My second encounter with hope happened on one of my early birthdays when I was called upon to blow out my birthday candles all by myself with no help. I felt a circle of tense faces coming down on me as I took a big breath and let go.

I don’t remember how many candles were on the cake but I blew them all out and everyone clapped. “Don’t tell what you wished for or it won’t come true,” someone hollered. Right then all my hope went up with the smoke. I had been so eager to do a good job I had forgotten to wish.

I still don’t like people staring at me. I don’t like it when I sit in the corner of my doctor’s office, for instance, engrossed in a magazine and the nurse blurts out my name so loudly I jump.

All eyes are looking at me as I gather my belongings, straighten the magazines, stand up, sweater dragging, purse unzipped, and head for the open door. I get so rattled that I forget to hope for the best.

Wishing on a star was my next experience with hope. My mother and I would chant “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might get the wish I wish tonight.”

She reminded me, every time, to look sharply because it had to be made on the very first star. I must have wished as many times as stars have twinkles but I can’t remember for sure if any of my wishes came true.

In time I replaced this childhood chant with a more sophisticated song. It begins “When you wish upon a star” and ends, “your dreams come true.” In between it gives us permission to wish on all stars, any stars, any time, any place.

I don't have to strain my eyes in the twilight searching for the very first flicker - any old star will do. And I don’t have to blow hard and not tell to make my birthday wishes come true. And even if I forget to whisper the wish to myself, it is in my head and that just might be enough.

These days when I find one of those touristy little wells sitting in a patch of grass collecting money and wishes I am always surprised at the carpet of coins at the bottom.

If no one is watching I might drop in a coin and make a wish of my own, as though I were Hope on top of the world and the face in the ripples is someone I’ve never met.

Hope On Top Of The World

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This feature, TGB Readers' Stories, appears every Tuesday. Anyone age 50 and older is welcome to submit a story. You can do that by clicking the “Contact” link at the top of every TGB page or at the Guidelines/Submissions page.

Please be sure to read and follow the guidelines before submitting a story. It will save me a lot of time.
]


Comments

This is lovely and eases one into contemplation of our own hopes. So well written by you.

Nice story - thanks for including the image!

I hope you get paid for your beautiful writing, Gloria. "Thank you" seems pretty inadequate.

This is beautiful Gloria. A wonderful summary of life and dreams. Thank you.

XO
WWW

What a delightful, beautifully written and completely relatable story. Thank you so much.

I loved every word and image (and laughed out loud at your description of being in the doctor's office).

I'll echo Marcia's statement that I hope you get paid for your writing. You're very talented.

Gloria,
such powerful writing . So beautifully full of images. You pulled me into the story and I loved every scene. I felt I was there with you. This is wonderful!

Wonderful!

Thank-you for reminding us all to have hope. You write with a bit of magic that made me see the scene and feel your hope.

PS: I was a good girl and didn’t scroll down to peek to see if a picture of “Hope” was on article. I sure hoped it would be. What a lovely image to hold in your mind throughout life.

Your words movingly describe hope that keeps us going throughout life, even under the most difficult circumstances.

Gloria, an enchanting tale! Sadly even Google can't locate this particular image of Hope at the Top of the World....any idea where it came from??

This is a well-written story, and the painting adds to the imagery.

Ronni, do you plan on creating some sort of archive as was done in the past? It would be nice to have all the new stories collected in one place.

Carol...

The painting is by George Frederic Watts, a Victorian painter associated with the Symbolist movement.

If you type his name into Google, you'll get a detailed description of his life and works from Wikipedia and several other sources, as well as many photos of his paintings, including "Hope".

Thanks again to Gloria, for drawing all this to our attention.

Just beautifully written and so unique. Thank you for the lovely story, Gloria. Keep writing more stories because you are very gifted and I hope you get all the praise you so richly deserve.

What is the wooden structure with the chain on which Hope is leaning and why is she blindfolded? Thanks.

Cassandra...

Apparently it's a lyre, with only one string (the remaining strings being broken).

I was assuming she was blindfolded to symbolize "blind hope". But I don't know that for a fact. That was just how I looked at it and there are probably better interpretations. But for sure it makes it even trickier to play your song.

My understanding is that the painting caused quite a stir and was initially disliked by some critics, because its ambiguous and difficult depiction of Hope ran against the expectations of the times. They suggested it should have been called "Despair" instead.

But Watts is said to have replied: "Hope need not mean expectancy. It suggests here rather the music which can come from the remaining chord."

I love that.

Cassandra...

Apparently it's a lyre, with only one string (the remaining strings being broken).

I was assuming she was blindfolded to symbolize "blind hope". But I don't know that for a fact. That was just how I looked at it and there are probably better interpretations. But for sure it makes it even trickier to play your song.

My understanding is that the painting caused quite a stir and was initially disliked by some critics, because its ambiguous and difficult depiction of Hope ran against the expectations of the times. They suggested it should have been called "Despair" instead.

But Watts is said to have replied: "Hope need not mean expectancy. It suggests here rather the music which can come from the remaining chord."

I love that.

Thanks, Katie.

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