Hope Is in the getting There

My ongoing attempt to remain hopeful
Monthly theme image featuring a young girl holding a growing plant and the December theme Faith and Hope

“Hope,” the singer Lana Del Rey reminds us, “is a dangerous thing.” She’s right, of course, and for more than one reason. Hope is complicated. I think I understand that better now than I once did.

I’ve sanitized an expression I grew up familiar with, but it effectively went like this: “you can urinate in one hand, hope in the other, and see which one fills up first.” 

If you’re left feeling a little hopeless upon reading that, you’ve understood it correctly. The ice-cold realism stings intentionally. Hope is a waste of time, it implies. It’s pointless. 

Despite that, I was a child with a fair amount of hope. Much of that hope was handed to me by Sunday School teachers and well-intentioned adults. Ours was a faith built on the idea that the invisible would one day be seen. Until then, we just had to believe. Hope and belief were intertwined. 

Cynicism & sadness

Of course, like more than a few young people, I eventually tried on the weary cynicism of someone much older—not unlike a teenager attempting to wear a worn-out leather jacket. It never fit me all that well. I think I understand the appeal, though. Cynicism temporarily insulated me from the hurt of hopes dashed. I am not naturally cynical, though. That isn’t me. Besides, sadness always comes a lot more easily to me. If I’m predisposed to hope, the surprise guest appearance in my life is one of occasional hopelessness. It rolls in like a wave and recedes whenever the tides decide to change. There have been times in my life when that sadness lasted longer than others—so long that I’d forget what it felt like to have any hope at all. Other times, I experienced hope long enough that I forgot what sadness felt like to begin with. This can make the return of either a bit disorienting. “Wait a minute,” I find myself thinking in these moments, “I thought you were gone for good.” 

Sadness, of course, manifests in a variety of different ways—including rage. In Women Who Run With the Wolves, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes performs an autopsy of sorts on how this kind of anger may actually show up, and it’s not always how we might imagine:

“Sometimes people get confused and think that to be stuck in an outdated rage means to fuss and fume and to act out and toss and throw things. It does not mean that in most cases. It means to be tired all the time, to have a thick layer of cynicism, to dash the hopeful, the tender, the promising. It means to be afraid you will lose before you open your mouth. It means to reach a flashpoint inside whether you show it on the outside or not. It means bilious entrenched silences. It means feeling helpless.” 

Hope is active, but…

The reminder that helplessness and hopelessness team up so often is useful. Sometimes I need a reminder that hope is active. I don’t want to forget that. It’s too easy for me to imagine that hope is somehow passive; that I’m only required to close my eyes and make a wish. I don’t think that’s how it works, though. Having some skin in the game seems like a requirement.

And this is where the worker bee inside me wakes up and comes to attention. There’s a part of me that desperately wants to earn the right to be hopeful. If I only work hard enough, I can generate hopefulness through a well-deserved sense of accomplishment. It’s hard for me not to feel like everything is going to be okay when my to-do list is constantly being marked off—when I’m crushing everything from deadlines and expectations (real or perceived) to staying on top of the laundry. 

Earning the right to hope

After a few decades of trying this, here’s something I’ve realized: earning the right to feel hopeful is impractical if not impossible. In fact, it’s never truly earned because there’s always more that could be accomplished. If hope is the wage of a job well done, the returns are constantly diminishing and the taskmaster is never satisfied. Exhaustion, however, is imminent. Burnout is inevitable. Hope is active, yes, but the nature of this activity matters.

This is what I’m learning: activity for the sake of being active isn’t enough to generate or sustain hope. Being active is not necessarily the same as being busy. Simply being busy can be a place of profound hopelessness. Our souls struggle to feel their worth from that angle. I don’t think we earn the right to be hopeful by working hard. 

At its best, hope isn’t circumstantial—which is how I experienced it at earlier points in life. It may be easier to experience something like hope when the day-to-day feels consistently up and to the right. But at 42, I’m willing to argue that much hope isn’t actually required in these moments. Hope gets real, as my partner Jenny reminds me, when there is no guarantee that anything will change—that each new day may be just like the one before. 

Getting there

In this context, hope may simply be in the quiet anticipation, the expectation, even, that I am constantly becoming more whole; more free; more my deepest self. You are too. The external world may not appear differently, but our insides are shifting. We’re going somewhere. Is that journey linear? Far from it, but hope transcends even our days of two-steps-forward and three-steps-back. In fact, maybe that’s where it thrives. Hope isn’t in the earning or the wishing, or even in the believing, but it lurks in the waiting—the thing so many of us would rather bypass altogether. But waiting need not be idle. This isn’t a chance for me to check out or sit on my hands. I get to wait actively—working towards my intended outcome in even the smallest, seemingly insignificant ways, and without any guarantees that my hope will one day be fulfilled. The destination is never the thing anyway, is it? Hope is in the getting there. It always was.

Bias and Burnout

Understanding, Exploring, & Managing Bias and Burnout
Micah Carver

Micah Carver

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