Hope can be an immensely helpful element in our lives when we go through difficult and trying times. It gives us a reason to live, and gets us into a state of tension providing meaning to our lives. It gets us out of bed in the morning and fuels us as we commit to performing the daily actions that inch us closer to our destination while we face difficult circumstances.
Whether it’s about having a better future for ourselves, our family, our community or for this world, hope can be a powerful engine in our pursuit. It’s something that drives human behavior in the darkest of times.
A great example is Witold Pilecki, a Polish cavalry officer and the founder of the Secret Polish Army resistance group. His one and only hope was to see an independent Poland. This hope propelled him to join the resistance movement and volunteer to be arrested by the Nazis and imprisoned at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. Over the next two and a half years, not only did he keep up contact with the outside world and send information about the events that were happening inside the camp, but he also smuggled food and medicine into it.
After his escape from the camp, he continued fighting for Poland. In 1944, Pilecki was captured as he fought in the Warsaw Uprising and spent the remaining time of the war in a prisoner-of-war camp. He joined the Free Polish troops in Italy in July of 1945 and then came back to Poland so that he could gather intelligence on its takeover by the Soviets.
Later, he fought against the Polish Communist regime, but he got caught and was tortured and interrogated on his espionage until he was executed in 1948. Even while Pilecki faced his imminent death, he had hope. He said he had done everything he could to help free his people, and because of that he could die with joy in his heart.
After many years when all the details emerged, Pilecki’s bravery was commended and he received posthumously the Order of Polonia Restituta in 1995 and the Order of the White Eagle, the highest Polish decoration in 2006. The Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, said that Pilecki was “an example of inexplicable goodness at a time of inexplicable evil.”
Witold Pilecki’s story highlights simply how powerful hope can be during the most excruciating and obscure times when the odds are against us.
Hope is an incredible thing and definitely more valuable than we give it credit for. When we are surrounded by darkness and go through the bleakest moments, hope acts as a soothing burning flame — constant and inextinguishable, and available to us no matter what conditions we’re in. It keeps us in constant touch with our vision and inspires us to go through any obstacles or challenges that come our way. As Alex Lickerman writes in his book The Undefeated Mind, “People usually consider hope among the most wondrous of gifts: it keeps us going when we want to quit and makes possible victories that seem unattainable.”