A couple of months ago, I descended into a
particularly lonely type of hell called “internet dating” and reacquainted myself with the pitfalls of hope. Not the Obama “keep hope alive” type of hope, but the kind of hope that has people wondering what you’re grinning about – the inner dialog that believes something cool’s a’coming.
The kind of hope that brings on what Truman Capote called the “the reds”: An ambient fear although you don’t know what you’re afraid of. After a few dating missteps, the reds outweighed the hope.
Yet, I don’t know how to live without hope. When I think of it, Morgan Freeman’s final voiceover in Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption rumbles through my mind:
I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope…
Yet, when it’s dashed, I’m once again …well, dashed. No longer devastated, too old and wizened for that, but still … well, dashed.
If I’m to trust that the future will take care of itself, if I’m to be grateful without attachment to an outcome, why do I still insist on getting so juiced by hope?
After emailing my friend Ian to ask how he manages hope, he asked me, “Is hope based on one’s expectations of the actions of another, and if so, does that construe a false hope since we cannot control the actions or know the thoughts of another person? Do the yogis and wisemen … have hopes?”
What an important distinction between “hope” and “expectations.” Or not. The dictionary defines “hope” as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”
Ian’s question about yogis got me googling “hope” + “Buddhism,” which led to an essay called “The Place Beyond Fear and Hope.” (www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=3340).
….[A] wild ride between hope and fear is unavoidable. Fear is the necessary consequence of feeling hopeful again. Contrary to our belief that hope and fear are opposites where one trumps the other, they are a single package, bundled together as intimate, eternal partners. Hope never enters a room without fear at its side. If I hope to accomplish something, I’m also afraid I’ll fail. You can’t have one without the other.
I definitely dig the idea of living without fear, but without hope? I’m putting out an awful lot of hope these days – in my trip, in the fundraising, in myself, in Abdullah’s assessment and support. Yet, I haven’t been this fearful in a long time.
Hope and fear wandering hand-in-hand suddenly makes sense. To break the cycle, the essay’s author recommends detaching from outcomes:
[T]hose who endure, who have stamina for the long haul and become wiser in their actions over time, are those who are not attached to outcomes. They don’t seek security in plans or accomplishments. They exchange certainty for curiosity, fear for generosity. They plunge into the problem, treat their attempts as experiments, and learn as they go. This kind of insecurity is energizing; people become engaged in figuring out what works instead of needing to be right or worrying about how to avoid failure.
A willingness to feel insecure, then, is the first step on the journey beyond hope and fear.
Security in insecurity? Does life get any more oxymoronic?
Do refugees find “security” in the hopeless insecurity of their present? How would they live without hope that tomorrow will be better? Sometimes I think “living in the moment” is a luxury enjoyed only by those already living in luxurious presents. [Note to self: Ask Abdullah. Answer probably lies in his faith.]
The essay continues:
Hope is not related to accomplishment. It is, quite simply, a dimension of being human. To feel hope, we don’t have to accomplish anything. Hope is always right there, in our very being, our human spirits, our fundamental human goodness. If we know that we are hope, it becomes much easier to stop being blinded or seduced by hopeful prospects.
Vaclav Havel describes hope as an attribute we carry in us always, a state of being that is not dependent on outcomes. [The] poet-playwright-activist-leader [who led Czechoslovakia to freedom from Soviet rule, offers]: “Hope is a dimension of the soul … an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. … It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.”
“The certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.” Thus, hope is not an optimism in the outcome, but a faith, a trust, in the process.
Well, that’s pretty hard for me to apply to my PlentyOfFish.com dating prospects, as I’m hoping for a specific outcome! But, in terms of my trip to Baghdad, I haven’t really defined my hopes beyond my wild desire to find people I’d met ten years ago and bring their stories to Americans. Can my faith in the “process” that has no certain outcome outweigh my desire to succeed in getting my stories out? What if no one reads my reporting? Does it matter then that I take this trip?
There’s a closure for me, of course, in this trip. But I long for the trip to be more than that. It’s too dangerous for Abdullah and the other Iraqis who help me for this trip to be solely about my “closure.” That’s why I’ve been scrambling so much for assignments and webinars and subscribers and other ways to build an audience for my reportage.
I can’t help it. I find I’m so excited. I can barely sleep or hold a still thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a woman who has allowed herself the freedom to dream and to be disappointed, to overcome the fear of being afraid, to recognize the faith and hope buried deep inside her, a woman at the start of another long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I see Abdullah and hug his daughters. I hope I can interview Iraqis and widely share their stories. I hope a fraction of the Baghdad in my memory still exists. I hope.
In spite of myself, I hope.