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Hope over darkness

By Aaron Hanscom
web posted June 2, 2003

Judging from my regal bowl cut, I must have been about ten years old when the photograph was taken. I'm seated a couple of rows behind third base close to where a few years later I'd witness a lame Kirk Gibson hobble to the plate and put the finishing touches on an improbable Cinderella season. Unlike on that magical night, there are no ecstatic fans around me. Only Kevin, another shaggy lad, is at my side. Kevin's well-connected father had allowed him to choose one lucky friend to join him for this Dodger pre-game interview. The two of us were going to offer up the valuable insights we'd attained after a full decade on the planet. I'd have to wait another decade to realize how profound and prescient I had in fact been during my first and only brush with fame.

The first question (the only one that I can remember) completely took me by surprise.

"Who's your hero?" the interviewer asked.

Hero? If Kevin had answered first, I probably would have stolen his answer and said Steve Sax, too. After all, he was my favorite player and this was the Dodger pre-game show. Leave it to eccentric Aaron, however, to come up with probably the oddest answer a ten year old could have.

"Bob Hope," I blurted out without thinking, when the microphone was shoved in my face.

The mortification was immediate. I had announced to the world that my hero was an old fart whose jokes I really didn't get. I stayed awake all that night pondering over my silly remark, but was unable to comprehend that my admiration for the ancient fellow could be explained by the laughter he generated in adults.

As I got older I would suffer through many more severe bouts of insomnia, although I didn't revisit my Bob Hope pronouncement until recently. The most horrible of these sleepless nights were comparable to those of one of Hemingway's nocturnal waiters in Spain. Only wide awake in the dark did I ever feel like I had lapsed into a state of nihilism. It was during these moments that I truly made sense of the hopelessness in the waiter's version of the Lord's Prayer: "Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee." My elevation of nothingness came to an end only when I flipped on the light and turned my room into "a clean well-lighted place."

This year I was finally able to place my own fears in the proper perspective. Warm under my covers, I began to turn my thoughts to the American troops sleeping in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan. Surely their nights are more troublesome than mine. Death definitely creeps closer during war, when one faces a ruthless enemy and is separated from the comfort of friends and family. These young men and women have no light to switch on to make the darkness disappear. Witnessing the evil of tyranny all around them, they can only hope that the light of freedom will eventually shine through this darkness.

Hope cracks jokes to an audience of thousands of GI's massed in an open-air theater in Cu Chi, 20 miles northeast of Saigon during a 1969 Christmas tour of Vietnam
Hope cracks jokes to an audience of thousands of GI's massed in an open-air theater in Cu Chi, 20 miles northeast of Saigon during a 1969 Christmas tour of Vietnam

Bob Hope understands this well, and he has lived up to his name for 100 years now. "I have seen what a laugh can do," he once said. "It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful." Hope entertained American troops for over fifty years, lifting their morale and reminding them "of what they were fighting for."

How telling then that Bob Hope celebrated his 100th birthday so soon after the liberation of Iraq. He has lived through several wars and he has seen how much he's meant to those fighting in them. Thousands of letters express this appreciation, like this one from a World War 2 veteran:

Dear Bob,

In a crowded ship, going through sub-infested water it was a big thrill to me to hear the boys laughing their heads off at your jokes. It really brought to us, home, right there in the middle of a damn big ocean. What I'm trying to say, Bob, is that, to us, far, far away from home, you really typify our way of living and bring us thousands of miles back to our beloved country. --

John M., United States Army

I haven't had insomnia for awhile now. The dark is quite different when you're convinced it is necessary in order to give light its significance. Evil exists and only courage can beat it. Hope plays an essential part in the formation of this courage. It might look naïve and hubristic to those who retreat in times of danger, but it is necessary to inspire action. Its counterpart, despair, only leads to paralysis and the empty rhetoric devised to mitigate it. Take a look at the dire predictions of the French and others who opposed war in Iraq. Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin of France tersely explained the rationale for inaction when he said, "No one can claim either that [war] might lead to a safer, more just and more stable world. For war is always the penalty of failure." These types of statements only strengthened Saddam during the buildup to war. Another Foreign Minister, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer of Holland, explained the problems of a passive approach. "We don't need more inspectors with flashlights," he said. "We need Saddam to turn the lights on."

Well, Saddam never did turn on the lights. Darkness reigned over Iraq until the United States and her partners brought it to an end. Say what you will about the motivations for waging war (liberation of Iraq, destruction of weapons of mass destruction, impetus for democratic reform in the Middle East), at the bottom of all of these was hope for a safer and freer world. If we ever forget this, we'll watch from the sidelines like the French did in this war. Left out of the glory just like my friends were who gave up on the Dodgers and left Game 1 of the 1988 World Series a couple of outs before Kirk Gibson limped around the bases.

Looking at the photograph of me at Dodger Stadium, I'm amazed at how much I've changed over the years. For one thing, I don't have that hideous bowl on top of my head any longer. Some things never change, though. If I'm ever asked who my hero is, I won't have to think twice. My answer will be the same as it was when I was ten…Mr. Hope, of course.

Aaron Hanscom's work has appeared in a variety of publications such as The Ventura County Reporter and IntellectualConservative.com. He teaches in South Central Los Angeles and he can be reached at ahanscom@hotmail.com.

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