Looking back on a century of Hope
by Donald DeMarco
the passing of Bob Hope, President George Bush offered this succinct
and fitting tribute: "Today America has lost a great citizen … Bob Hope
made us laugh. He lifted our spirits."
Sir Robert Hope, who held an honorary knighthood in Britain, was honoured
four times by the U.S. Congress and by every branch of the military.
But it is the latter part of the presidential encomium that I want to
Comedy runs the gamut from Bozo the Clown to Dante's Divina Commedia,
from the jester to the visionary. In thanking Hope for lifting our spirits,
Bush correctly located America's most honored comedian somewhere in
the vicinity of the visionary.
It is a law of anthropology, as inexorable as the law of gravity, that
we cannot lift our spirits by ourselves. We can bow our heads, confess
our sins, repent, and amend our lives. And no one else can do any of
these things for us. But we are entirely reliant on others to be gracious,
thoughtful, and hopeful enough to lift our sagging spirits.
Humor at its best has its eye on a higher plane. Otherwise, it could
not elevate. It was the genius of Bob Hope never to allow us to remain
glum or gloomy. He was bright, energetic and, as his name suggests,
a man of hope. "Golf is my real profession," he once quipped. "Show
business pays my green fees."
Hope was a visionary because he knew something about greener pastures.
We know of another man, one who has earned the nickname, "His Polishness
the Hope," who also knows the secret of combining humor with vision.
Once, when the Holy Father slipped and fell several steps on newly installed
carpeting in St. Peter's Basilica, he had the presence of mind and readiness
of wit to say: "Sono caduto ma non sono scaduttoî"(I have fallen, but
I have not been demoted). Even when he falls (though not like a fallen
angel), he lifts our spirits. He assures us that a fall merely precedes
a rise. The very best of all humor is an anticipation of the Resurrection.
When he was the butt of his own jokes, Bob Hope made himself appear
to be even more invincible. Though a star of the silver screen, Hope
never won an Academy Award. Yet he superlatively emceed the Academy
Awards 18 times. "Welcome to award night! In my house it's known as
Passover … This is envy time in the valley and I'm the Jolly Green Emcee."
Losing apparently never really got him down. It merely armed him with
better jokes. His message to us was that though we are all down, we
are not necessarily lost. A fall is not perdition. We can get up and
He joked that he had so many movies re-running on TV that he could
change the dial and watch his hairline recede. He could laugh at his
own failures and imperfections (especially his ski-jump nose), and all
the while use his humor to enhance his image as both a human being as
well as a humanitarian. He saw something - as does John Paul - that
is larger than life. Don't let the bumps in the road get you down. The
prize ahead still awaits us. Have hope.
G.K.Chesterton ended his book Orthodoxy with a curious rhyming couplet:
"There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when
He walked upon the earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was his
mirth." Bishop Fulton J. Sheen thought that Christ was exhibiting a
pretty good sense of humour when he re-named the man who thrice denied
him, Peter, and then established his church on that "Rock." Biographer
Henri Daniel-Rops found it easy to imagine Christ laughing mirthfully
as He dandled children on his knee while they pulled and tugged at his
God has given us the Pope and a man named Hope, both gifted with the
genius of appealing to the sunny spots in the human heart. The best
humour presupposes hope, lifts the spirits, and gets us back again on
the road of life (to Singapore, Zanzibar, Morocco, Rio, Bali, Hong Kong,
or Utopia - sometimes known as Paradise).
Thanks for the memories, Bob - but even more for rejuvenating our hope
in better things to come.
Donald DeMarco, a frequent contributor to The Interim, is professor
emeritus of philosophy at the University of St. Jerome's College in