I have a complicated relationship with hope.
Sometimes I channel my inner-Pema Chodron who says, “Hope and fear come from a feeling that we lack something…we hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment.” My translation: hope is living in your fantasies of what you want rather than what is . And sometimes I channel my inner Rabbi Nachmann, who asks, “If you won’t be better tomorrow than you were today, what need have you for tomorrow?” My translation: yes, reality is reality but what can I do to make reality more liveable?
It is so easy to feel overwhelmed by life–whether because of the recent rise in COVID cases, the ups and downs of the stock market, because our kids are worried about their futures and our parents about getting hard of hearing, because our dog has started limping and became middle-aged overnight or your daughter ate the last of the papaya you bought yesterday. Or maybe it’s the nasty driver who honked at you when you drifted into his lane; didn’t he realize you were doing your best and he didn’t have to sit on his horn? And sometimes all of the overwhelm can make us feel hopeless. We are too intelligent and too old to channel our inner Pollyanna, but we want to be joyful AND grateful AND realistic AND be able to breathe–at least for a few minutes each day.
I love Pema, love her love her love her, and when I am going through a rough time, I listen to her and her instruction to stay with discomfort is sometimes the only voice that I can tolerate. But when I need hope, I need me some Rabbi Nachmann or the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks who said, “Hope is the belief that we can make things better…it takes no courage to be an optimist, but it does take courage to hope.”
The hope of Rabbi Nachmann and Rabbi Sacks is active. Their hope says go do something. Yes, maybe things are rough. Maybe your internal world is in turmoil and your external world even worse. Maybe your ex-husband is a jerk and your recent ex-best friend insane. Maybe you’re tired and hungry and worried, but for these rabbis, hope hope says I believe in your ability to find a way out of this. Their hope says I know you want to give up, but don’t. You are stronger than you know.
But I don’t think we can do this alone. Sometimes the world is just too overwhelming and no amount of pithy statements glued to our fridge will shake us out of our funk or get us out of our pajamas and into the light of day. Sometimes we need friends and loved ones, we need our tribe, our circle of loving women to remind us that we can do this; we can get up in the morning and make ourselves better and then, one little baby step at a time, we can make the world better. Every act of kindness, every smile, every positive thought can begin a ripple of good energy that will spread and grow.
And I don’t know about you, but hope feels a hell of a lot better than despair…