"It's much more dangerous, much more radical to hope."
~Mary Karr, author of Lit and The Art of Memoir
I am an incurable optimist. Hard-wired for sure but spurred on by a childhood marked by addiction and neglect. At night, in bed, I would curl up inside my hope to muffle the screaming and thumping in the bedroom beside mine. Believing, with all my heart, that things would get better. They had to.
They did. My mother got sober, my parents stayed together and I got the hell out just in time to take my dysfunction on my twenties roadshow.
That decade, like many people's early adulthood, consisted of falling madly in love and either being heartbroken or breaking someone's heart. But no matter, I always figured I was on the path to where I was supposed to be.
I graduated with one of the least marketable degrees possible. I worked retail, folding pants and watching the clock, until one day the area manager offered me the chance to take over a store. More money than I was accustomed to. More responsibility.
No, I said, convinced that something better – something I dreamed of doing – was on the horizon.
And it was.
I got married. A year later I was pregnant. A routine test revealed the possibility of an abnormality with the baby. The odds weren't great.
I prepared myself for the worst but hoped for the best.
She was born healthy.
Hope sometimes gets a bad rap. It's passive, they say. Naive. It's pie-in-the-sky. Better to be realistic. And by "realistic", they mean pessimistic. Better to aim low and be pleasantly surprised than aim high and risk disappointment.
But hope isn't about sitting around waiting for fate to smile on you. It's the energy that points you in the direction of where your dreams lie. It's the reason you can go in a different direction than everyone is telling you to go, to imagine yourself where you want to be rather than where you are. Hope is the keeper of both happiness and disappointment, author Bryant McGill reminds us. Hope is eyes wide open to what's in front of us, but eyes also trained on the barely discernible future where we can see the shape of what might be.
My hope took a beating around D-Day. I felt like a fool for being an optimist, surrounded by a cultural chorus of "once a cheater, always a cheater". I felt as though the universe had stomped on all those dreams I'd had for myself. My happily-ever-after dreams. My chutzpah that I was as entitled as anyone else to a loyal partner.
For awhile I took refuge on the plain of lethal flatness or "the dead zone". But all it got me was a life wrapped in gauze. I didn't really feel...anything. Sure I was dodging pain but I was missing out on joy too. So I fought my way back through fear to hope.
Hope that I would not only survive this agony but emerge from it somehow stronger. That my husband would fight for me, for our family, for himself. There were absolutely days when my hope seemed utterly misplaced. When I redirected it toward hoping (all the while working hard, so hard) that I could dispense with so many of those old messages that made me feel unworthy, that made me feel as though what had happened was comeuppance for my daring to dream big. After all, who the hell did I think I was?
But somewhere in there, between hope and sweat and tears, I realized that what I'd spent my whole childhood hoping for – that tomorrow could be better than today – was true even, especially, in the darkest period of my life.
It's true for you too.
Tomorrow can be better than today. And if it's not, then the next tomorrow can. And the next.
It's audacious to hope. It's dangerous and radical, as Mary Karr says, to imagine that things can be better.
But to give in to cynicism, to believe that life will deliver only more pain, isn't an option. Despair is no place to live.
Hope isn't about crossing your fingers, it's about grabbing your life with both hands and an open heart. It's about bending toward the sun that nurtures your growth, even when that growth takes you far out of your comfort zone.
Hope isn't wishful thinking. It's not about fantasy. It's about meeting people exactly where they are and inviting them to come along toward something better, knowing full well that they might not be ready for the trip.
But we are. Our bags are packed and we're ready.
And hope is the fuel that will take us the whole way.