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The Sadness of Hope

The little boy sits on the edge of the curb waiting for the familiar black truck to turn the corner. “When is he coming? Is he coming? Dad, I mean, the Dad who used to live in the house but now comes to visit from time to time. He’s scheduled for today, but will he come this time?”

The little girl sits chewing her pencil, dreaming of becoming a ballerina, wondering if her legs will ever be straight. The mother prays that her hyperactive child will be able to sit still. The middle-aged man waits for news of his promotion.

Hope: a bittersweet emotion that always carries an undercurrent of sadness. If we KNEW something would happen, we wouldn’t have to hope. If we have to hope, that means there is always uncertainty. Hopes can be dashed. So having hope means that we risk despair.

When is hope denial? How do I stay hopeful that my alcoholic wife will become sober when she’s been through four treatment centers and has always returned to drinking? How do I stay hopeful that my husband will stop gambling, womanizing, raging, or withdrawing, when he pledges to stop, yet never does, or when he never even acknowledges he has a problem? When do I admit that some hope is a fantasy: that the little boy’s dad is not coming, the girl’s legs won’t straighten, the hyperactive child can’t sit still, that the other guy in the office is more talented and going to get the job? When do I acknowledge these are facts and are they? How can I know?

And there’s more. What happens if, in the face of all indications, I continue to hope and continue to be disappointed? I will feel stupid, naïve, and gullible for having hoped at all. So in addition to risking despair, hope can cause me humiliation, a humiliation in front of myself and others, for having believed.

“I told you that he/she would never change,” are the words on the lips of those who have watched us suffer disappointment before. Sometimes people say these words because they care, and it helps relieve their pain to point out that they knew. And sometimes people say these words just to point out that they are wise, that they weren’t fooled, that THEY would never be duped, even though we all know that this woman spent a fortune on her drug-addicted son or that man spent a fortune trying to please his wife.

Why do we need hope anyway? Is it practical? Does it have a purpose? Let’s think about it.

Imagine a world without hope: hope for a better life for ourselves and our children. Would we have the energy to get up in the morning and face the trials and challenges that weigh heavily on us, if we didn’t somehow hope that things would get better? In fact, if we didn’t have hope, wouldn’t we be paralyzed?

The same hope that led us to believe our husband’s lies over and over, that same hope will give us the courage to leave him and seek something better. The same hope that allows us to be duped allows us to have faith in the hopeless cause: human rights, justice, and equality. The same hope that allows us to be dashed energizes our success. Without hope, there would be no risk-taking, no research, no innovation, no seeking, and no effort. For better or worse, if Columbus had not hoped that he could find a better route to India, we wouldn’t be here.

Beth Green

Hope is crucial. It keeps us young, inquiring, seeking answers, and trying new solutions. It keeps us focused on working toward the future we want, rather than dwelling on the past that limits us. It keeps us fighting for what is right rather than conceding to the rule of power and tradition.

Am I willing to give up hope? Heck no! I would rather risk despair, I would rather risk looking like a fool one more time, I would rather keep believing the impossible dream is possible than to surrender to complacency and defeatism.

We are living in a society full of pain and disappointment, and, worse, we are dominated by behaviors of our own that seem intractable, as though they would never change. I will never give up hope that I can achieve a more balanced mind, a healthier body, and a more elevated spirit. And I will never give up that hope for you. If I did not hope for you, I wouldn’t invest my life force in supporting you to change. If I did not hope for humanity, I would not continue to dedicate my life to freeing ourselves from negativity.

Life is full of miracles, good and exciting things that I would never have even dreamed possible. So I will continue to hope, to bet on the losing horse when my gut tells me to give him another chance. And I will surrender to the pain of hoping and be a fool until the end of my days.

What about you?

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