The Semiotics of Hope

With the Trumpocalypse now behind us, at least electorally, it feels a little safer to come up out of the Dirt Soul survival shelter into the rain-swept, gray-light of a new day. And as these trying times slouch toward the New Year, I find myself looking for new sources of hope.

From the pandemic to imminent recession, the end of restaurants to the Amazonification of the economy, climate change to zombie economics, it feels easy, just lately, to sit and wonder what the hell is wrong with us collectively. To quote Marvin Gaye, “What’s going on?”

A pile of running shoes, such as I find in my closet, suggests things aren’t so bad. When the zombies come to eat my brains, I have some high quality choices for escape footwear. Really though, that pile, and even the sandy mess under it, never fails to cheer me up.

As a bike person, I take great comfort in the sure knowledge that, no matter what happens out in the larger world, I can mostly pedal my way to a better (mental) place. And so when I’ve cast about in search of some sign that the apocalypse isn’t actually nigh and come up empty, I look to my basement for evidence that things will get better.

There is the family bike rack, with too many bikes for the 5 slots it offers. Just seeing them there, stacked and leaning against each other stirs something warm in my chest. In their inert state, I am not yet riding them badly. Striving and straining and second-guessing aren’t happening. Their energy accrues potentially, each bike hinting at happiness still to come. I envision idealized familial bliss, the making of memories to be cherished in advance. I find I need this theoretical future positive when the careening present seems at its most chaotic and dark.

And then there are the skis, standing quietly in the corner by the boiler, bold colors screaming about the peaceful moments we have in store, slowly climbing to the top of the mountain before the lift starts running, then stealing those first tracks in the newly groomed snow.

Phrases like “stay in the moment” and “be here now,” and “be where your feet are,” and “just breathe,” have all kinds of new-agey currency at the moment, and certainly as a general rule, it seems best not to dwell too long on the past nor to obsess too much about a theoretical future. But what is hope made of if not the notion of a better tomorrow, and what image conveys the feeling of that incipient change in our fortunes quite as well as a pile of shoes, some bicycles, or a pair of skis, cleaned and ready to rock?