May 28, 2003
Hope Over Darkness
By Aaron Hanscom, Contibutor
PALISADES -- 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
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
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.
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 will
celebrate 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:
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 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 remain
the same, however. 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.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Aaron Hanscome is
a writer in Pacific Palisades, CA. and a columnist in the American
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