Jasmine water and hope as sure as knowing

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, April 30, 2003

This week I want to return to the topic of hope. But first, a response to last week's column on the Easter Monday Polish custom of dousing favored people with water. Heinz Unger, Cochrane's globetrotting World Bank consultant, wrote:

WARREN, your fun and love-filled story of smigus dyngus reminded me of the Easter I spent in Bangkok two years ago.

I was sad to miss the Easter celebration back home, but it happened to be the Thai New Year (Songkran), and the water-splashing (or rather, water-throwing) – customary for celebrating Thai New Year– was great fun.

It was also much appreciated, since April is about the hottest time of the year in Bangkok. It was almost impossible to miss being doused, whether walking down a quiet side street or riding in an open tuk-tuk (a low-cost taxi) on one of the main thoroughfares. Especially the young people delighted in throwing water at everybody coming along, foreigners included. And, similar to your grandchildren, high-tech water guns were being used everywhere, in addition to the old-fashioned but high-volume buckets.

I wonder whether there's some connection between Polish and Thai water-splashing customs. Or is it just the fun which continues to keep it so popular, especially with the young people?

You, Warren, certainly make many connections between such different people and their traditions. I always love your stories!

—Heinz Unger, Benchlands

IN A POSTSCRIPT to his letter, Heinz mentioned the parades held on this day, with Buddha images, dignitaries, floats, and entertainers. Spectators show their delight by drenching the marchers with buckets of ice water. (Cochrane and Calgary Stampede parade organizers, take note!) And woe to the train traveler caught sitting by an open window.

There is also a gentler, more respectful side to Songkran, Heinz said. Children pour jasmine-scented water on a grandparent's hands while uttering a blessing for the coming year.

In this practice of blessing, both Polish and Thai customs are united in their affirmation of hope. Which brings me around to the other topic for this week's column.

Two weeks ago, in an attempt to illustrate one of the meanings of the word "hope", I shared Ian Medland's story of two-year-old Billy crying out for his mother in the middle of the night. Billy has every confidence in the world, Ian said, that Mommy will hear his cry and comfort him.

Coffee companion Sandy Corenblum responded:

WARREN, I think what Billy felt– and what all the other Billys of the world feel – is not hope but belief. It is a pure belief that Mommy will always come. Hope, to me, is when there is still doubt left in one's mind. Young children (unless physically or mentally wounded or abandoned) always believe and know Mommy will come.

—Sandy Corenblum, Calgary

THANKS, SANDY, for your helpful clarification. It is true, as you say, that "hope" is often used these days to speak about outcomes that are desirable and possible, but not at all certain – outcomes about which there may still remain some doubt. It was in this sense of the word that World Health Organization representative Pascale Brudon is reported to have said recently: "Vietnam has been able to show the world that there is hope that SARS" (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) "can be contained."

There is another meaning of "hope," however, that relates to the absolute certainty about a future optimistic outcome or about the cause for such an outcome – a hope as free from doubt as knowing.

Such is the case with Billy's certainty that Mommy will come in the middle of the night. And such is the case when the writer of Psalm 62 states confidently: "For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from Him."

This kind of hope is conceived in the constancy of God's promises, whispered in the embrace of believing and knowing.

© 2003 Warren Harbeck

Return to Coffee With Warren home page