Saturday, February 20, 2010

On Hope

I read a book review recently which concluded, "Books like [this] make you laugh and cry and ultimately leave you feeling happy and hopeful."

You know that nice, warm, after-a-movie feeling when the world is almost-right and you can do anything. You even look like the heroine of the film until you get to the bathroom and have to stand under the garish movie theater bathroom lighting.

We call that "hope." We like that feeling, fleeting as it is, and sometimes we chase it like an exotic butterfly because we're so desperate to feel hope.

I do not want to feel hopeful. I do not want to be full of hope—not in the emotional sense of the word. Not in the synonym-for-optimism sense. Feelings are far too fickle for me, and like a drug, I find that they leave me feeling emptier when they're gone.

I am a confirmed pessimist. I lose fights in my dreams, but worse, I lose them in my imagination, when I'm fully awake and fully in control. Give me a few minutes to discuss your problems, and while I can encourage, I can really discourage. I can suck the optimism from an entire room with the precision of a government-designed weapon.

Not that I've ever tried.

But if I'm going to deal in hope, it's not going to be trite. It's not going to be sticky stuff that comes from a tree. Hope is not the ephemeral sense that "everything will work out."

I'm discouraging partly because I'm so hard to encourage.

The problem with this kind of hope is simple, though. It's a feeling. Real hope—the kind that is the marrow of the human race—is not an emotion. It is a tool. It is an engine, a generator that spurs the human heart onward when all else has failed.

Sometimes it's only an oar, and you have to pick it up and push back the sea with all your strength until you want to weep with exhaustion. For the sake of survival, though, you pick up the oar, you choose to hope, and you press on with all the determination and fortitude you can muster.

Hope is a powerful force—one to be wielded, not merely felt, not merely enjoyed at the end of a good book.  Hope is a lifeboat, and when your boat sinks, it will get you to that distant shore.

Keep it close. Use it well.

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