Sunday, March 27, 2016

Questions and Answers About Hope

Since you asked me directly if I think you should keep on trying, I’ll answer.
There's an old analogy of a three-legged table. So it goes that if any one of three legs is taken away, the table falls over.

I think life's different. It's not three-legged. It's one-legged. And that leg is hope.

Without hope, life collapses. It just falls over. It doesn’t contemplate falling over. It doesn’t investigate means of regaining itself. Hopelessness doesn’t inquire as to its relative strength or weakness. Hope may have many degrees…but there is no truly relative hopelessness. Hope and hopelessness are like a rheostat wall switch – you may dial hope up or down, but once you hear that ‘click’ of hopelessness, the lights are out. One has hope or one doesn’t. Remove hope and life just falls of its own lack of raison d'etre.

So, the fact that you’re inquiring tells me you haven’t reached “hopeless”.

Simply aging has a way of diminishing hope. Simply aging has a way of taking away the idols of our dreams. No more possibility of our rock star, superstar athlete, noted writer, famous artist dreams. We combed those dreams out of our heads along with the last of our graying hair.

We survived those dashed dreams of ours. Maybe that even pleasantly humbled us. Bowing to that reality often does. And if we don’t see the humor in our own hubris, some other kindly soul will gladly point it out for us. We might as well laugh along. Those hopes sink into the sea of reality….but that loss doesn’t usually leave us hopeless unless cumulatively added to more concrete concerns. If we’ve lived this long, we’ve probably learned the difference between adolescent dreams and real hope. Probably.

Additionally, you already knew what everyone was going to say before you even asked. If you’re like me, you’ve heard the pat answers all your life. You’ve probably given them. I have. And sometimes a fiction can get us through. Our imaginations are pretty good at bolstering hope – false or real. Maybe. If only. Someday. When.

And the truth is, you asked people who can’t answer. Nobody here has experienced hopelessness. You’re just asking us to opine in the abstract. If we knew what hopelessness actually was, we wouldn’t be around for you to ask.

As a guy whose dad waltzed himself off the dance floor in the middle of the song, I’ve contemplated this hopelessness thing quite a lot. I don’t think hope is something one is talked into and out of. It didn’t work that way with him. He just quietly one morning slipped into the garage and started the car. He didn’t ask anyone whether or not he should. The fact that we’re having this discussion that is essentially about hope is, I think, an indicator that it is still present.

If you’re anything like me, this public inquiry is quite possibly throwing down the gauntlet on God. Many’s the time I’ve felt the urge to try to publicly shame God into taking better care of His children – me or others. Mostly me. And, hey, it has appeared to work. Though I can’t be absolutely sure that correlation equals causation, I’ve seen God snap to it and take care of business.


I just bit the tongue I had tucked in my cheek.

Anyway, yes, the possibility – however remote – that God will fix things does bolster hope. And I’ll go along with the others you've asked and send my own request His way that He might consider offering you that grace. He’s done it for me from time to time. I never deserved it. I’m a nasty, whining, cry-baby of the lineage of Cain, Lot, Gideon and their ilk. God chose to treat me like a Joseph anyway.

Finally (maybe), I’m calling “bullshit” on your “comfortable with my post-life options” (as you describe them) nonsense. Nobody is. The human condition is ignorance. That we live lives of faith is AT THE SAME TIME both a reason for hope AND an admission of ignorance. It humbles us to have to admit that, but faith isn’t the end zone. Knowing is the end zone. We don’t know.
The religious are as good as any human at whistling past the graveyard. Sure, we’ve been given an extremely vague promise of a better life to come, and we believe it. As much as we can, anyway...

What’s that? ….you don’t think the promise is a vague one?

Look it up. It’s hardly a footnote in the Old Testament. It’s barely described in the New Testament. It’s the very end game – the end zone – and yet it’s one of the least known about concepts in the entire Bible.

And if your confidence comes from the perspective of a non-religious materialist, I would only carefully observe that it was the non-religious, not the religious, who postulated the hypothesis that the whole religion thing with its promise of a paradise to come is but the hopeful delusion of those uneducated primitives who in their ignorance constructed a hope (one to answer their fears of the unknown) out of thin air rather than a seeking for truth…

…well, even if that’s true, the observation couldn’t have been observed in the void of the identical fears and ignorance of what’s to come. The materialist is whistling past the same graveyard.

So, again, “bullshit”. If you’re comfortable with your “post-life options”, you may not be paying attention. It might just be that you have to finish your dinner before you get dessert.

So, I guess if I were in your shoes…which I’m obviously not…I would humbly recommend “keep trying until you can’t”.


  1. John,
    I've read and re-read this post many times now. Beautiful writing. I found it very stark but deep. Very timely for me as well. In the last two weeks I've lost a sibling and had another suffer a sudden and critical illness. I probably don't ponder these questions often enough but your piece crystallized the need to. Your gift with words equals your gift with dirt.
    Mark Fitzgerald

    1. Thanks, Mark. I'm sorry for your recent losses. Mortality is sure a tough reality.