There’s one word I’ve used quite a lot lately and that’s: Hopeless. A feeling that’s often considered a negative emotion that should be driven out by rainbows, unicorns, and reckless optimism. It’s seen as something that needs to be cured with haste lest it run wild. Left untreated it becomes a cancerous growth that destroys and devastates precious tissue.
Hopelessness is viewed with pity and disdain. Losing hope, even in the darkest of hours, is seen as surrender without a fight. It’s turning off the light, laying down arms, waiting for capture. Would we call it a sign of weakness or is that too far? What else do we call it when we let go of hope, give in to grief, and embrace the silence of the nothingness that follows?
Throughout history, hope has been seen as something that’s vital to our welfare and our survival. Food, water, shelter, fire, and hope that tomorrow will be brighter. Without these things, we can’t live so who, in their right mind, would willingly give up something that’s essential to their survival? Who would do that without putting up a fight?
Hope is something that’s so ingrained in our psyche that separating a person from this emotion would be as futile as trying to surgically remove their soul. Alexander Pope said, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” It’s in every beat of our heart, every cell in our blood, and every breath we take. To hope is to be human. It’s a sign of life. It’s something that identifies us as mortal beings.
Do I dare to suggest that it’s one virtue that’s valued by everyone, in every culture, all over the world? There’s not much we all agree on but hope seems to be one idea we’ve all embraced to varying extents. It’s a universal imperative that’s held in such high regard that, to question its validity, is frowned upon and often met with derision.
So, of course, I’m writing about the downside of such a beloved character! Why not question its purpose and its place in our lives? Now, when hope is just about all we have going for us, seems like just the right moment to pop that pretty shiny bubble. What could go wrong?
Okay, no I’m not about to lambaste hope or shatter it into a million little pieces. Sure, I’m cynical but I’m not that cynical. I’m not going to call it foolish or a waste of time and energy. I’m not going to mock the practice of reckless optimism or suggest that anyone who dares to hope is a fool or just plain crazy. I would never dream of it because I, despite all appearances, hold on to hope with a white knuckle grip.
Right now, during pandemic times, we’re running a long-distance marathon, but we’re desperately trying to turn it into a sprint. The finish line is out there somewhere but it keeps getting pushed further away. We’re tired, desperate for an end, and hoping it comes soon because how much longer can we go on? The break in our resilience will come and, if you’ve seen the news, it’s come sooner for some.
A couple of months ago we faced down this virus with resolute hope that we’d have this thing sorted in a few weeks. We went from two weeks to thirty days, and those days keep getting longer. Some of you have lost jobs and are struggling to provide for your families. Needed surgeries have been canceled. Food and basic supplies are hard to find. Our medical systems are being pushed to the brink and the people working the front lines are being asked to jump over the ledge.
We started out so hopeful but now? Now people are angry and that anger is turning to denial. Protests are springing up. People are marching on government buildings with clenched fists. They want their lives back which is understandable but at what cost? How many deaths will be justified as long as we can pretend everything is normal? What’s the magic number for you?
I postulate that, in some cases, hope has led these people astray. As inspirational as it can be, hope can also be misleading because we become blinded by its brilliance. We’re so taken in that we can’t prepare ourselves for the worst. We can’t even entertain the possibility. Perish the thought! I have hope in my heart, and my eyes are set on a brighter future.
Maybe our eyes should be looking at the path beneath our feet as well as looking ahead?
I love hiking and photography. The beauty of nature mixed with the thrill of the hunt. I’m hunting for a good shot, not a trophy for my wall. I’d rather take its picture than mount the deer on my wall. When I’m out there, I look up, around, and I take it all in because to me that moment is my deep breath in. It’s my saving grace. It’s the one thing that keeps me grounded.
However, I’m very awkward, gimped, and clumsy. If I don’t look where I’m going then I’m going to fall on my face and fracture something very valuable. My face or my camera. Which is more valuable? Oo, tough question.
Life, as well as hope, is kind of the same thing. It’s clumsy and awkward. Beautiful, wondrous, and amazing but it has its pitfalls. We hope we never encounter those falls but what if we do? Preparing ourselves, physically or emotionally, for a negative outcome doesn’t cancel out hope. It doesn’t mean we’ve lost the faith. It just means that we’re hoping for the best, preparing for the worst, and keeping our eyes on sunnier skies.
When I go for a hike, I take enough water and snacks with me just in case I get hurt or turned around. I’m not even going deep into the backcountry where things can get hairy. I’m relatively safe but still, I prepare myself because you just don’t know what’s going to happen. I walk out my front door fully hoping, expecting, to walk back inside a few hours later. Hope, expectation, doesn’t mean I don’t take the necessary precautions.
But with life? I get lost in the dream of something better and I forget to live. I hope. I pray. With my whole heart and soul, I believe that something will click, and my life will come together. I hope that my body will become stronger. I hope I’ll find someone to love. I hope that one day soon I’ll walk out my front door with a fully vaccinated immune system and go into the world.
That won’t be today, tomorrow, or next week but I hope that “someday” will come soon. However, hoping doesn’t make it a reality; it just makes reality more hopeful.
For all of its wonderful, magical, qualities there’s a downside to hope. That wonder and magic is so alluring that it blinds us to reality. It silences our better angels and we can, if we fall too far, behave in ways that defy reason or decency. It can, it seems, turn sane and reasonable people into the devils they would, in any other circumstance, run from. It would seem that, that makes hope one of the most dangerous emotions we can ever experience.
Is that a sentence too far? Let’s go a little further.
We can prepare ourselves for an undesirable outcome and still hope for the best. We can brace for the impact but still try to fly. Looking down won’t make us fall just like looking up won’t give us wings. It’s easy to forget, to get lost in the pretty and shiny bubble, but life and hope aren’t black or white. It isn’t either/or. This isn’t a true or false quiz. Two things, no matter how contrary, can still be true and necessary to our survival as individuals and as a global community.
Believe me, I feel it, it blew my mind. Pow! Poof! Boom!
My advice, despite everything I just said, is to hope more but smarter. Yes, it’s hard to hope when life feels hopeless but never stop believing in something better. Never stop dreaming of a life that’s better than the one you’re living. Never stop hoping but don’t let hope stop you from living a well balanced, love-filled, life. You don’t have to choose between hope, reason, logic or a fairy tale. Life, hope, is more astounding, more complex, than anything our imaginations can dream up.
And I’ll keep telling myself that until I wholeheartedly believe it.