How’s your hope doing? Mine has gone through some rough patches lately and I don’t like it. The news is not giving me enough, the skies are cloudy all day, the streets have too much blood running, I don’t hear enough laughter, alcohol often leaves me mopey.
I think hope is the most valuable measure by which to judge the quality of your life. Like tree rings, I look back and see many years brimming with hope, some less so, and then these last few, not great.
There’s plenty of hope around if you look. I watch baseball, a lot. Imagine the hope it takes to stand up there trying to hit a pitch. The best of them fail seven out of 10 times, some nine of 10, and some of them get hit. They take their lumps and boos and somehow walk off the diamond with their head only a little down, thinking about next time. Or chasing down a fly ball, running like wolves, tracking that tiny dot, stretching out, grasping, crashing and holding on, joyful. So much hope.
If you have children, you have hope. Generational hope. Things will be OK, maybe even great. They’ll find a way, maybe fall in love, maybe live happily long after you’re toast. Maybe not, but hopefully.
Here’s a tougher challenge. When I see our neighbors along the thoroughfare on the other side of the Purdy bridge, waving flags that I have a lot of trouble appreciating, I can see hope. It’s tricky for me, but as long as they are waving and smiling, looking for support and righteous enthusiasm, they have hope. And when they look angry, I think they have lost hope and I worry for and about them.
Democracy is a very hope-dependent idea. It’s hard to hold onto a shared sense of country these days. I think half my countrymen are being fooled, and they think the same about me. Faith is close to hope, but demands more. I hope most of us think a lot like me, or at least that we all can respect some shared decision about right and wrong, but we need to have faith to believe that the shared decision is real and fairly derived. When that faith is lost, anger makes sense.
Maybe it’s always the case that anger is active hopelessness. Your world and my world are just not the same world, and yours is wrong, delusional, filled with fools or secret cheaters and thieves, something to be fought and conquered, subjugated, managed. It makes sense when there’s just no hope.
The older I get, the stranger hope gets. I know by now that it comes and goes, but when your whole life is ahead of you, hope is like breathing; it just is. I spent a lot of my life trying to do things I thought were important, especially when it was hard. Selfish as most I suppose, I wanted my life to mean something. I hoped that people would think I was a good guy — that I, in fact, was a good guy. Failure was getting to be more comfortable with repetition, but like those batters, I could always walk off thinking about next time. When there’s not that many next times, it gets harder to keep your head up.
All the more reason to try. I have to find hope now. Every sunrise, every sunset, every beer; everything has hope in it when I look hopefully. It’s not the thing, it’s me. I had the good fortune of growing up in a safe and pretty tolerant world. I could do pretty much what I wanted, pretty much when I wanted to do it. Be home by dark, college was free, you could pick a job that made sense, you could buy a house, you could make love with anyone who wanted to join you. Of course, we had hope. Well, some things change and maybe it just takes a little more effort now.
I hope you all have hope, and if not so much, then I hope you’ll find some quickly. Even a little is way better than none, and more is better than a little. The total volume of your hope, measured over your life, is a good way to decide if you are having a life well-lived. And those of you who may be nearer the end than the beginning, now is a good time to add some. Turn off the news if that helps, meet those new neighbors (they seem nice), start learning something, start anything. If anger grabs you, grab it back, hold it at arm’s length and then look at it closely. Maybe let it go, it doesn’t really matter. Stretch your most bitter conclusions, because people are still pretty good. At least I hope so.
Jack Dunne lives gratefully in Lakebay.
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