“Anyone who is among the living has hope . . .” – Ecclesiastes 9:4
On May 25, 1961 before a joint session of Congress, President John F. Kennedy declared a challenge to the entire nation that before the end of the decade the United States would send a man to the moon and return him safely back to earth. At the time, the mere thought of such an endeavor seemed unfathomable. But it was a new decade, being led by a new president, and America embraced the challenge. Soon, however, the decade of the sixties eroded rapidly into war, civic turmoil and political unrest (not unlike the present times), and violence, including, among others, the assassination of the president himself. As one who grew up and came of age during that tumultuous period, one thing stood out as I reflect back, and that was Kennedy’s challenge to send someone to the moon. While it seemed unrelated in a way to all the other strife of the time, yet it provided us with a much-needed sense of hope.
A person can live up to forty days without food, so they say, up to seven days without water, and even a few minutes without air. But a person cannot live a second without hope. No one expressed that more eloquently than world renowned psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Dr, Viktor Frankl. “Those who know how close the connection is between the state of mind of a man, his courage and hope, or lack of them and the state of immunity of his body will understand that sudden loss of hope and courage can have a deadly effect.” To illustrate his point Dr. Frankl detailed for us his theory on the record high death rate in Auschwitz during Christmas 1944 to New Years’ 1945: that prisoners died because they had expected to be home before Christmas. When they realized this was not to be, they completely lost hope in life beyond the concentration camp.
My grandmother, according to my aunt who was at her side when she drew her last breath, spent her last moments as she lay on her deathbed joyfully singing a hymn. Only two months shy of her one-hundredth birthday, my grandmother’s earthly death had become inevitable. Yet, it was hope that had sustained her life all those years, and it was hope that carried her across the threshold to the next life. So it was that those who survived the Holocaust were people with hope, that America survived the sixties and went to the moon on hope, and we in our own time will survive this pandemic as long as we have hope. For, “Anyone who is among the living has hope.”