Who am I?

Life’s existential question often pesters us — who am I? My time-honored answers have been — child of God, mother, grandmother, leader, educator and friend of the homeless. Today, I add another — I am a hopepunk thinker and writer.

While you and I were piddling away at our daily posts, Alexandra Rowland created a new word with a powerful meaning. How does one do that! In short order, on Tumblr (July 2017) in two mini sentences she wrote — “The opposite of grimdark is hopepunk. Pass it on.” Rowland, a novelist, turned our world upside down with an optimistic theory of engagement and a catchy word recognizing the undercurrent in the culture that she was sensing around her. Described by the experts, grimdark is cynical and mean; hopepunk is positive and kind. Grimdark is hard; hopepunk is soft.

According to the birthmother of hopepunk, Rowland sees this term somewhat as different literary camps, still its ripples have quickly touched film, politics, religion and everyday usage. To be hopepunk is to rebel. To reject the dark views of our world and insist on a kinder, more welcoming, warmer place is being hopepunk.

Jim Mc Dermott, a Jesuit and contributing writer for America magazine, questions, “Why is it [hopepunk] so quintessentially Catholic? He believes our faith is about stories told and battle fought between good and evil, with the hero, Jesus, teaching us to help each other, to love his ways and to love the world. Isn’t this essential message found in many faiths — love the world, help and love each other?

How extraordinary to be an old woman and see this crazy new word and fresh look at how we can live in community, with a compassionate heart, not by being a cruel pessimist, but by being a kind optimist. By being gentle and forgiving, an effective warrior, can become a change agent in any circle or culture.

Besides our recognized heroes — Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day and Viktor Frankl, who were hopepunk, but didn’t know it — I have a personal few that have made my glass-half-full philosophy overflow. Amazingly, we never know how these strands of hopepunk inspiration find us

I recall being on the streets once, handing out sandwiches to homeless folks in line, and saying, “Sorry, I only have one sandwich left.” The man at the front of the line with a hopepunk heart motioned to the man behind him and said to me, “Give it to him, I have eaten today.”

As a school head, I was often the last resort for student behaviors that were unacceptable. Secretly, I loved this job — a chance to get to know the naughty ones, who maybe needed a nudge in a different direction. One day, a first-grader was sent to my office for the final mischievous move in a series of missteps. With 6 year olds, the offenses are rarely serious, just annoying to the teacher and the class. Thus this youngster came into my office, climbed up on my sofa with his little legs sticking straight out, looked me in the eye and said, “So Dr. Knotts, what are you giving up for Lent this year?”

Here was a hopepunk lad, a bold questioner, who with one sentence, changed the direction of the conversation between us. He got me to reflect, not lecture. He expected some enlightenment, maybe wisdom. All I could say was, “Well, what a fine question, thank you. I will think about that.”

Recently, at a soup kitchen where homeless people are served and I volunteer, a minor altercation occurred between two men. I stepped between them and sorted out the differences, by listening, talking and letting them know that they mattered to the world, and to me. When harmony was restored, one man put his arm around me and asked, “Are you a grandma?” I answered, “Yes, why do you ask?” Smiling broadly, he said, “Because you talk like a grandma.”

Perhaps — homeless folks with a hopepunk heart can teach us that empathy is a strength, young hopepunk children can change a conversation and maybe the world by profound questions, and, hopepunk grandmas can step in and sort out squabbles before they escalate with radical all-embracing love.

Let’s hope!


Judy Knotts is a parishioner of St. John Neumann Catholic Church, and former head of St. Gabriel's Catholic School and St. Michael's Catholic Academy. Her newest book, "You Are My Brother," is a collection of past American-Statesman faith columns.