Hope Carried Forward

Monday Morning Musings:

“We can never go back to before.”

–Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, “Back to Before,” Ragtime

“Go out and tell our story

Let it echo far and wide

Make them hear you

Make them hear you”

–Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, “Make Them Hear You,” Ragtime


“It’s important to emphasize that hope is only a beginning; it’s not a substitute for action, only a basis for it. “

“The past is set in daylight, and it can become a torch we can carry into the night that is the future.”

—Rebecca Solnit , from Hope in the Dark, quoted in Brainpickings


I wake from dreams

where before and after merge

the past that never was,

the future that will never be,

where old friends visit a house

that is mine

only in a dream–

and I smile when I wake

because dream-world cats

knock objects from tables, too.

Somehow that makes

everything seem right.



There are hopes so small

scarcely thoughts at all


wishes, feather light

almost out of sight


they drift

away so swift–


a desire for fair days,

and then we gaze,


see beauty in the mist,

buildings lightly kissed


by grey, yet they shimmer

even as they’re dimmer

a paradox, perhaps

like seeing in the gaps


what could be.

And then behind a tree


a deer, or two, three,

more you see

than what is here—

hope for what could be.


And quiet sanctuaries

where history tarries

Garden at Christ Church, Philadelphia    Merril D. Smith, October 2019

Christ Church Garden, Philadelphia Credit: Merril D. Smith, October 2019

telling the story of before

in church steeples, and old doors


steps decorated for fall

historic houses call

but we can never go back to before

even if we try to restore


a status quo–

you know


there is no time machine

only dreams

where past and future blend,

but it doesn’t have to be the end—


we tell our stories

of past glories


and of little things

our hopes with wings


for our children, to bring

the awakening of spring


and they will hear you

and we hear, too


through mist and dreams

hope beams


a light,

a torch in the endless night.


Bonus Photo: “my willow.” I think people often dream under it.


“My” willow, October 2019 At Dock Creek, Old City Philadelphia

We saw Ragtime at the Arden Theatre. It was performed in the round with a minimal set (with the clever use of two pianos and benches), but I loved the intimate aspect, where even though I knew the story, the three groups seemed clearer, as was their desire for their children to have better lives. I think there are many people today who want to go back to an idealized past. Well, that is evident in the campaign slogan used by the current U.S. president. But though I tear up at the musical, it leaves me with a sense of hope.

And, if you’re keeping track, my manuscript for my book on sexual harassment is nearly completed. I’ll be sending in the first five chapters in just a bit.





















39 thoughts on “Hope Carried Forward

    • Thank you very much. The willow is in Old City, Philadelphia. Carpenter’s Hall is behind it, and there once was a large creek there, but it was already filled in by the 1790s.

  1. No time machine, only dreams–nostalgia is a trap we can ill afford. Rebecca Solnit is correct (as she so often is)–we need to plant hope, but also make sure the seeds have all they need to grow.

  2. Always a pleasure to open up my computer on Monday mornings and find out where Merril has meandered 😉
    I never saw Ragtime.
    I love your willow 🙂
    Way to go on your book!

    • Aww–thank you my friend! I used to listen to the soundtrack of Ragtime a lot when my girls were in high school, but I never saw it until last summer. (Broadway cast had Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Marin Mazzie.) It might be one of my favorite musicals. This production was much different than the other one, but I really liked it. OK. Back to the book now. Just a bit more to finish!

  3. Merril, I’m back, finally! Oddly, I haven’t remembered my dreams lately maybe because I go to bed exhausted. (You know the feeling.)

    I like your quote: “It’s important to emphasize that hope is only a beginning; it’s not a substitute for action, only a basis for it.” And the action must be continuing. Thanks for architectural slants and the snapshots of willows, birds, and deer today.

  4. Love this: “dream-world cats / knock objects from tables, too. / Somehow that makes /
    everything seem right.” Indeed, this generates in me a new hope – that perhaps those dream phenomena deemed too-sweet-to-be-possible could be simply not-yet-materialized. THANK YOU.

  5. Found it 🙂 There is something very sad about this poem. The passing of time maybe and the impossibility of recalling it, even in memory. No one remembers the same event the same way. Some memories are total fiction. Dream and memory are perhaps not very different.

  6. Merril, musings, mists and musicals, can there be a better use of 4 M’s? No! Gardens to dream and mists to cover what we want to forget and give a glow to that which we must not. We have changed to much on the turn to go back, simple was simpler only back then. We need to find the simple for our own days. Or something like that, I feel carried away with your musings. Thank you. Is it possible to ever watch or listen to Ragtime and not weep tears for the stories and the ships passing and the papas who played pianos and the time turning and that dream we are still holding on to?

    • Thank you so much, my dear. Yes, all of that. I feel all that, too–and yet, the story ends hopefully, even though we know that the future will bring more tragedy. I suppose the cycles of history continue to bring both hope and despair.

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