Do you remember the story of Pandora’s Box? After Prometheus made man, he stole fire from the gods for his creation. Zeus was angered and decided to get even. He had a daughter, the first woman, created from clay and he had all the Olympian gods give her gifts: beauty, grace, artistry, wit. From Hermes, she received inquisitiveness. Zeus called her Pandora, her name meaning all gifted (Beware that word all.)
He then presented her to Epimetheus, Prometheus’ brother, who married her. As a wedding present the couple was given a jar (later translated as a box) which they were instructed never to open. Pandora’s curiosity overcame her and, like Eve eating the forbidden apple, she opened it unleashing every variety of evil into the world: war, greed, illness, anger, cruelty, suffering, envy, jealousy, toil, murder, bigotry…storms. Trying to stop their escape Pandora slammed the lid, and it wasn’t until later she discovered that the only creature captured in the now almost empty container was Hope, Zeus’ final gift.
We are now on the other side of Hurricane Sandy and the pictures of the devastation left in her wake give me pause. In this event many of those ‘Olympian gifts’ to humankind have been present. The chaos, loss, and destruction have led to suffering, anger, even despair, while our finer qualities also have been present, the courage of the first responders, the kindness of neighbors, the compassion of strangers.
There are those who would argue that the increasing severity of storms, the melting polar ice and rising water are caused by global warming, created by our misuse of nature’s resources. Some would shake their heads and then their fingers at others and ‘blame’ would leave its box to punish the wrongdoers. And while it certainly seems true that our hubris often gets the best of us, this post is not about who created what or if this evil was purposeful or directed, or misdirected. There are enough folks out in the world who wrap themselves in the gift of self-righteousness and love the art of the reprimand.
I am more interested in that tiny residue in the box of ills, the last gift, and perhaps the greatest. While it may not inoculate us to present crises or prevent catastrophe, hope is the antidote to the aftermath of most evils. We need it desperately at times like these.
JRR Tolkien is, as those of you who routinely read this blog know, perhaps my favorite author. He has Sam explain this concept to Frodo when the darkness takes over in The Two Towers and he feels unable to keep carrying his burden:
“Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.
Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.”
America is a land of fighters. The early pilgrims believed it to be the new Jerusalem, the city on the hill. It is quintessentially the land of hope. We believe in possibilities and promises. People come to our shores to build new lives…or rebuild them. There is something in the American spirit that is at its best when we have to face down evil whether that is the aftermath of a storm or of an attack on our land.
So to all those facing the loss of so much they loved, I pray the future will bring some restoration. I wish them courage to hang on to their memories, the strength to remain unbowed as they rebuild a future, and fortitude to reach deep inside and find that hope that withstands all evil. It is there. There is goodness waiting. There is always goodness waiting in whatever situation we find ourselves. And it is worth fighting for. Hold on.