“I hope so.” Too often, this phrase lands for me as terribly limp and feeble.
It may contain a modicum of positivity, but only the most meager portion — a glimmer, a sliver… “I hope so,” tends to convey too much doubt, hesitancy, and reservation. I get that it’s meant to be encouraging, but it doesn’t resound with a whole lot of empowerment. It seems more like a wish, a roll of the dice, a passive receptivity.
Obviously, hopeless would be worse, but not by much. Hope sounds like the last gasp, one small step from despair.
Then again — maybe it’s everything.
Perhaps that one small step contains all possibility. Maybe it doesn’t even have to be a whole step. It could be just a pivot, a turn of the head, a look or a listen that changes our perception of the world, allowing something different to be.
I know I’m not the only one who’s been struggling lately. I also know that in the big scheme my struggles are minor, internal, and mostly a cakewalk, so please don’t hear this as a complaint. Still, I daresay that for most people right now, myself included, life is occurring as very uncomfortable, uncertain, and danged scary. I’m also tired. And I miss you. I spend way too much time with my own thoughts, and social media sucks me further into whatever neurosis is primed on a given day. I’m afraid of failing to get any of it right — and “it” can be anything: responding to racial injustice, being safe and sensible through the epidemic, at the same time exercising my productive creativity, serving my community, being ME. Ugh.
I’m encouraged by the big transformations, the bold stands, the opening hearts and minds. I believe absolutely that we’re on the right track together. I am 100% in favor of people rising up against inequality, oppression, and violence. I am all-in for the radical reform of structures and institutions that have failed our shared humanity. I am inspired to work on the conscious dismantling of my own privilege. But of course it’s unsettling — that’s the whole point.
Even as I I’m engaged in my own shifting priorities, and I can see that the world is shifting at the same time, and I know with all my heart that there’s so much good in this — still, I am dizzy with it and frightened by everything unknown and unknowable.
I find that I need HOPE now more than ever.
But I need it to be a strong hope, an active hope, visionary and solid, audacious and grounded.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina recently invoked Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (1835). Rep. Clyburn was responding to a fellow legislator’s malignant denial of systemic racism. He said, paraphrasing de Tocqueville, “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” This is the kind of hope I yearn for — strong hope, real hope.
I am very drawn to the idea that our greatness isn’t about what we’ve already accomplished but in what we are willing to believe we can do and be, and that towards which we are willing to work. It isn’t about already embodying our ideals — because, first of all, we haven’t, and second of all, we’re not done. We’re still on our way. Our greatness is our willingness to learn and grow and evolve. This is true of each of us individually and all of us together. It’s certainly true not just of Americans but of all self-aware human beings.
I looked up “coping mechanisms” the other day because I thought I might need some different ones. The first item that came up in my search results included “lowered expectations.” And I thought: what bullshit. Maybe what I should have searched for was hoping mechanisms — something about why hope is essential, and how to work it.
I’m not interested in coping with life by forfeiting my dreams or dimming my imagination. I don’t want to cope by abandoning hope. I don’t intend to lower my expectations about our boundless potential for brilliance and kindness, love and creativity, healing justice and joyous plenty.
But neither do I want to approach hope as a pipe-dream, sitting around on my well-padded thoughts and prayers, wistfully affirming a wholeness that is painfully distant from our actual experience.
Here’s what I think: let’s claim hope as a call and a response from Life and to Life. That’s the mechanism of it, I think — call and response.
Hope is the call that includes both inspiring visions for what is possible as well as honest and pragmatic assessments of what’s not working right now.
Hope is the response which acknowledges not just the inalienable and self-evident truth of perfection with which we’re all innately endowed, but also all that we must become and overcome during our march together through eternity.
© 2020 Drew Groves