Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Logic of Hope

I am a pessimist in day-to-day life. I am not surprised when I find that we are out of bread at lunch time, out of diapers when I don't have the car, that the jelly side always hits the floor.

But I am a fierce optimist when it comes to the bigger things. For so long now, life has continued on a downward spiral for my family, but every year, I find myself not just hoping but believing that things. will. get. better.

It's gotten to be funny—to me, if no one else. I grew up quite poor and determined not to be that way again. My brother thought college was ridiculous; my sister got tired of it and graduated with a general studies degree, which she followed up randomly with sociology. I knew better. I got a real degree from a real school, and while I dreamed of things like writing, art, and architecture, I followed my real degree up with something practical: a master's in teaching. My sister and brother are both doing better than I am.

In college, my husband and I knew all sorts of people: art majors, drug addicts, homeless men, and mentally ill women. They've all made better lives for themselves than we've managed.

Since then, we've seen people make terrible mistakes: marriages that didn't work, careers that didn't work, lifestyles that didn't work. They've all picked up the pieces and gone on to be more successful than we've managed so far.

As far as we go, I figured my husband's salary based on the price of gas recently. In 1995, I was making minimum wage. In an hour, I could buy four gallons of gas. Today? One hour will buy around three gallons, but we've also got student loans and five children.

It bothers me a lot. Sometimes I'm sure things will always be like this, or that they're actually going to get worse. Sometimes I see all the things we've failed to do for our children, all the time that's slipped by while we've been failing so miserably, and I get horribly depressed.

But most of the time? I'm certain that things will be better soon. If when I am old, I am going to walk upon the beach in white flannel trousers with the bottoms of my trousers rolled, this path must lead somehow to that one and the beach house where I will stand and look at the ocean and write beautiful things and paint poetry.

I am not oblivious, though, and I am more naturally a pessimist than an optimist. I have noticed that things do not always work out for everyone, and despite the success of those around me now, I have seen failure, loss, and death.

So why do I still believe things will get better? It had gotten funny to me, like a mental illness is funny, like you laugh when you watch your house burn down once your children are out but nothing else can be saved. Last year, we actually celebrated New Year's by making a hope chain that listed all the good things we expected or hoped for the new year. This year? I'm keeping my mouth shut, but the audacious, ridiculous voice inside me that won't. shut. up. keeps at it—this year. This year will be better.

Something occurred to me tonight. As things get worse, odds of them continuing to get worse must decrease at a proportionate rate of velocity. I mean, at some point, the "worse" options become one in a million because you've already been through most of them. How many times can you crash your car with an airplane? Or give birth to a ten pound baby AND end up in NICU?

So maybe hope is logical after all. That silly Hope part of me? It's cheering at the thought: OF COURSE things are going to get better. All the stories worth telling have happy endings, after all.

The pessimist part of me isn't all that useful anyway, figured he'd lose the argument, doesn't really have anything to gain by winning, so what he thinks is immaterial.

If nothing else, hope is more tenacious than despair. After all, if hope fails, despair will always be there tomorrow.

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