Bangor’s ‘Hopeful’ new piece of public art on Main Street was unveiled by the United Way on Thursday evening. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik/BDN

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Call it a sign of the times.

Maine artist Charlie Hewitt has already been spreading a message of hope across the state, having installed several of his “Hopeful” sculptures in cities like Portland and Lewiston. As of Thursday evening, the lights have been lit on Bangor’s own version.

This shining beacon of hope now reigns over the Queen City, high on the outer wall of 152 Main St. — just around the corner from the famous “Welcome to Bangor” mural that graces the same building owned by Peter Brountas. Perhaps we shouldn’t get too excited about a metal sign that lights up, but its installment has the potential to help instill a renewed sense of hope and togetherness at a time when it is sorely needed.

“Hopeful is not a gift – it’s a challenge,” Hewitt said when applying for approval of the project from the city. “To be hopeful requires action, it requires commitment. It is my wish that this sign will serve as a symbol to the citizens of Bangor as a message of hope and inspiration, and that it will provoke a dialogue and illuminate our better natures.”

Hewitt has provided a valuable way to think about hopefulness. The word “hope” is often used wistfully, almost passively. We’ll admit to sometimes doing so here in these pages. We hope that elected leaders will take a certain action. We hope that people will choose facts over fear. We hope a lot of things.

But hope, or at least the process of generating it, is anything but passive. It springs from action, from the helpers and the do-ers who step up to support others and improve their communities. It grows from the work of people like those at the United Way of Eastern Maine, who helped make the new “Hopeful” sign a reality (with financial support from the Bangor Savings Bank, Cross Insurance and Bangor’s Commission on Cultural Development).

“Our job at United Way is to help people when they need a little help. And right now, I think every one of us needs a little help,” said Jesse Moriarty, the group’s chief operating officer and experience officer. “We need a little hope that eventually, the pandemic will be behind us, and we won’t have to worry as much. We need a little hope that things are going to get better.”

It’s not always easy to be hopeful in the second year of a global pandemic, when questions abound about the resilience and responsiveness of our institutions and leaders. In hard moments when hope might run out, however, people have been there to replenish it.

Look at how this region responded when the OHI Brewer Food Pantry needed $40,000 for a new roof and water damage repairs. The organization announced last week that it raised the needed funds.

”I know that the people that use us tell us all the time how much it means to them, how much it helps them, and I just can’t tell you how grateful we are to the community we live and work in that they rallied around us and supported us the way they did,” OHI resource developer Rich Romero told WABI.

And listen to hopeful notes that new Bangor resident Frank DeMauro struck when explaining why he started walking around downtown playing Christmas music on his tuba.

“I can’t really practice in my apartment, so I figured, why not go around and try to make people’s day a little bit better and play some music?” he told the BDN.

Not all heroes wear capes. Some play the tuba.

Whether neighbors are helping each other by paying it forward with donations to organizations like food banks and the United Way, or playing it forward with Christmas songs in downtown Bangor, hope remains undefeated. Hope is more infectious than any COVID variant. It’s more durable than any period of inflation, “transitory” or otherwise. But it doesn’t materialize out of thin air. A government can’t print it, and even a cool new sign can’t sustain it in the long run. Ultimately, that work falls to all of us.

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...