Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Havel and Hope

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Vaclav Havel—writer, dissident, President of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic. He was a leader of the Velvet Revolution in 1989. In the NY Times obituary, the Czech expatriate novelist Milan Kundera is quoted: "Vaclav Havel's most important work is his own life."

I have a tiny thread of connection to Vaclav Havel. In 1991, I made a book using a quote from Disturbing the Peace: A Conversation with Karel Hvizdala about hope. I was so moved by Havel's story, his compassion, his ideas, and his humanity.

Here's how I described the book in written material to accompany Bookworks, an exhibit at Rivier College:

Here is the quotation:

Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it has a chance to succeed. The more unpropitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. In short, I think the deepest and most important form of hope, the only one that can keep us above water and urge us to do good works, and the only true source of the breathtaking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts, is something we get, as it were, from "elsewhere." It is also this hope, above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually try new things, even in conditions that seem hopeless as ours do, here and now.

I sometimes look back at things I have done with amazement. I have always been a combination of insecure thoughts about my work and occasional bold moves. I put into the bold move category sending the book to Vaclav Havel via his US publisher Alfred A. Knopf. I received this letter in return:

Vaclav Havel's website with many links to his writing and speeches

NY Times obituary

PRI's The World interview with his translator Paul Wilson

Madeleine Albright taking about Havel on the PBS News Hour

JUDY WOODRUFF: What was he like? I mean, he clearly was not the typical -- anything but the typical politician.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: He was the most amazing man in terms of being the combination of somebody with massive moral authority, great courage for having espoused the concepts of democracy, freedom throughout a very difficult communist period, a very modest man, and somebody with a fabulous sense of humor and the idea of being able to see the absurd in situations.

So, he was a combination of many different aspects and tremendously interesting to be with.


JUDY WOODRUFF: You were saying that he signed all his letters with a little heart?


He signed it with a red pen for the heart and a green pen for his signature. And he had this great sense of humor. And you kind of felt that he was making a little bit fun of everything at the same time.

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