“Hope — a faculty decidedly different from and far more muscular than optimism.”
~ Maria Popova
Perhaps I am only beginning to understand hope. Last year, I wrote an article on the peace of hopelessness. This reflection came from studying a moment in my life when the specific outcome I had been hoping for in a certain situation vanished. In that moment, living the circumstances that I feared the most, I became hopeless and curiously enough, I relaxed.
After the article on hopelessness was published, a cyber-friend wrote me an email saying that maybe I had missed something. Then he sent me a story he wrote about hope, which he metaphorically likened to the tiny spring in a cuckoo clock he had been piecing together during a difficult time in his life. I have remembered this and have continued to wonder about hope. Because I knew even as I published the article that I was not ready to give up hope entirely. Hope is utterly necessary.
In the article, the kind of hope that popped like a balloon was a specific kind of hope. I hoped that my father would live and even less likely, live without the illness that had caused permanent damage to certain parts of his brain. This was a highly irrational and even magical aspiration of hope in which I attempted to forget the comments of his neurologist, neglected the inevitability of certain death at some point after the course of a life, and gave no room for any joy that was not contained in this naïve desired outcome.
It’s not that I shouldn’t have hoped. There are times when this is the only kind of hope we can muster up. As I wrote then, “hope was a power I wasn’t able to give up yet”. This narrow kind of hope did strain my heart though and “blurred my experience of enjoying my father during his illness”. And there was a lot to enjoy in this version of him. Now, and maybe only now, I can allow for a different kind of hope.
How do we participate in the kind of hope that won’t wring the life out of itself or us? How do we live with hope in a way that we are not on a perpetual treadmill attempting to make our lives better and better and better so that we forget about the life we are living now? What is the kind of hope that will not steer us to an almost definite state of hopelessness (because not all hopelessness is peaceful)?
My articulate friend had a suggestion for how to access this kind of hope as well. He said hope should be placed in “the realm of the heart” rather than in the head and that “without this ember within the heart, all thoughts become 2-dimensional representations that have no flavour and no power.” We must feel hope rather than just be able to speak about it. We must live hope rather than just be able to write about it.
But, thank goodness for those brilliant minds who do write a lot about hope, and in essence help to keep it alive. From the book Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, Rebecca Solnit writes that “It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine.” She then goes on to say that “Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act”… “Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of optimists and pessimists.” This unknowability makes it a perfect companion for the heart, which is vast, expansive and life giving.
This kind of sustainable hope is like an anchor rather than a helium-filled balloon tied to the end of a string that we grip not wanting it to deflate or get blown away. So, I believe that hope must also be placed in our feet, whether we choose to run or walk into the future, even if this future is yet unimaginable. We must live it in the best way we know how every time the skin of our sole touches the ground.
Hope is not always easy. Sometimes hope feels like resistance, like we are pressing against the direction of normal, accepted, habitual movement. Hope requires strength and sometimes it requires us to give in. It can seem, at times, a little nutty, even dark and defiant. Kind of like the spring in my friend's cuckoo clock.
Hope is sustaining but we must also sustain it. Even with specific desired outcomes we must make our hope long with broad perspectives. We must plan for our hope to extend well beyond our own lifetime so that once our hearts and our feet are no longer here, it will be here long after we are gone.