Some super incomplete thoughts on hope

…[A]lmost no one…is hankering after an evening of lament and trouble, of grief and mystery. There’s too much of that during business hours. Without hope” on the marquee there aren’t many takers.
Stephen Jenkinson, Come of Age p. 20

I’ve been thinking about hope. The above quote, as well as the book it’s from (as well as some of other words uttered by its author) are partly why. Also partly why is because I’ve been noticing more and more how easy it is to slip into the future. It seems that in today’s reality, longing for the future is kind of a collective hobby.

The future is a way out. The future is where we will get our finally’. The future, of course, is something that never really arrives.

Now, I’m not saying that there won’t be a next week’, or that if we put a dentist appointment on our calendar for the 20th of next month it never happens1. Of course not. What I am saying is that projecting change out into the future — as hope does — we set ourselves up for something. I think we set ourselves up for some significant disappointment. As I’m writing this, something else comes up for me: hope is passive. It’s something that happens in the imagination, which makes it, well, not very useful.

I think about the communities among us that have been living in major struggle — struggle those of us in the white middle class know little about. Food and housing insecurity. Fear that leaving the house will mean not coming home in the evening. Fear of the prison and justice’ system. What of these communities? What do they have to hope for? What would hope get them? Not much.

So what can we learn from those folks? What can we learn as we sit back and watch them persevere year after year? Well before the COVID-19 pandemic. What replaces hope? They replace, I think, a one syllable word for a two syllable one: hope for courage. It takes courage to get up every day and live and work in a world that doesn’t seem to care if you live or die. It takes courage to live in a world where you have to, on the regular, fight for your rights.

I remember a colleague of mine telling myself and some other colleagues about a group he was starting to work with. He was struck by how hopeless they seemed. They didn’t want to go on. They saw no reason to; to them, every path led to the same old outcome. He said that his job was to bring them hope. I bristled. I couldn’t think of why. I had no idea what it was in my system that rejected what he was saying, but something did. I think I get it now.

What if, instead of trying to bring them hope, he went to them and said, Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps all is lost. Really, though, there’s only one way to find out. And that’s by taking some steps, together, toward something.” I can see them sitting there, looking at each other, and then looking at him. How the hell do we do that?” they might ask. Fair question, right?

Well,” he would say. You just have to do it. But you need to have the courage to do it. And you need, right now, as you get ready to do it, to commit to giving it your all. You have to have the courage to take the steps — together — and fully live with the outcomes. There’s one other thing, though.”

They stare at him. One of them says, Ok, I’ll bite. What is it?”

You have to have the courage to be changed by your experience.”

This is the crux. Hope doesn’t give us the power to change. Courage does.

Sure, it might end up a shit show. It might end up with the same results. But something else might happen as well — a real shift. There’s really only to find out.

  1. Unless, of course, you are living during a pandemic. Then, yeah.

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