If ever a person lived up to the promise of her name, it was my friend Hope.
I used to tell her that, a lot, over our three decades of friendship. Every time, she smiled and waved me off. "Oh, you," she'd say in that gentle voice that masked such fierceness. Always, she smiled.
Hope Adelstein had a habit of believing in people, particularly women. Once she decided you were worth the effort, there was no escaping her generosity.
Hope never had children of her own, but she was a maternal force in so many of our lives. I first met her when I was 23. She was 61 — devoted to her husband, Stanley, and so many causes. She was a founding member of The Children's Museum of Cleveland and all but adopted me after I volunteered to help with publicity. It was a friendship that lasted 35 years, until Hope's death last month at age 94.
There. I said it.
Hope is gone.
She would hate how that sounds. "So melodramatic," she would say. "Think of something happier to say." For once, I will resist her advice. Hope is gone. This is the echo of my heart.
Her death wasn't unexpected, but it was unbelievable. There are some people whose example in life makes it possible to believe God might want to keep them around as evidence of his existence.
You want proof? I imagine God bellowing as he points to the tiny woman with the snow-white hair. I give you Hope Adelstein.
"Oh, you," she'd say.
She once told me that she was no longer sure God exists but that if she ever had the chance to meet him, she was going to give him a piece of her mind. She was an activist for kindness — and for women, children and the environment. Until dementia robbed her of her identity, she never stopped believing that the human race was, overall, a great concept but most of us earthlings could definitely do better.
At her angriest, I never heard Hope disparage another human being beyond acknowledging what he or she was up to. She chose to spend her energy encouraging those she loved. I was one of her lucky minions, and I turned to her for advice so many times over the years. When others tried to clip my wings, Hope would fluff them and push a braver version of me out the door.
Stanley died a year ago. I was one of several who delivered a eulogy to a packed house for his memorial service. Hope sat in the front row, but she wore the face of a woman whose mind had turned against her. Dementia had robbed her of her memories, of her Stanley.
Before Stanley's service, I leaned down and kissed her cheek. I could tell by the look in her eyes that I had to introduce her to my husband, her friend of 13 years. What a sucker punch.
Hope listened along with everyone else as I described a phone conversation between her and Stanley left on my voicemail a few years previously after they thought they had disconnected the call.
"Stanley," Hope said on the phone in the kitchen, "are you still on the line?"
"I am, dear," he said from the desk in his den. "I'm right here."
Hope giggled. "I like your voice, Stanley."
Stanley chuckled. "I love your voice, too, Hope."
They had been married for 50 years.
In less than three years, I will be the age Hope was when she first met me and decided on the spot that 23-year-old me was worth the effort. I've been thinking about that a lot since she died, especially whenever I'm in the company of young women sharing their big ideas. It's as close as I can get to feeling Hope is still alive.
Every so often, I swear I hear that gentle voice in my ear reminding me of what comes next.
Your turn, she says. Go fluff some wings.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Chris Stephens