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A Treatise on Hope

22/08/2010

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

So says T.S. Eliot.

My friend R. and I used to have lengthy chats last year, many of which touched on the subject of hope. Hope is pernicious, she wrote, fingers clacking definitively on the keyboard. Hope does not exist, hope is deception, an unwillingness to accept the logical flow of events: action and consequence. Hope is the mistaken belief that something beyond yourself will step in and widen your range of choices, insert a positive event, or erase a negative.

Hope, I counteracted, fingers matching the speed of her typing on the keyboard, is our last resort against the evils of the world. In illness, we hope, when downtrodden, we hope, when broke, we hope, and the shining beacon of hope is what gives us the energy to surpass the difficulties. Hope, that last inhabitant of Pandora’s box, is the antidote against all that is bad.

Hmm, R. wrote, grinning wickedly as she prepared for the final counterargument, I wonder why it was in Pandora’s box in the first place. Wasn’t that a collection of all the evils?

Touche.

That got me started thinking about hope, and my rapport with it. It used to be that I was its biggest devotee. Hope was the cure-all, in the way in which terminal patients expect a miracle drug. But the problem with hope perceived as a universal medicine, was that my hope was absurd. Unloved, I was hoping that the object of my affection would suddenly find it in his heart to return mine. Broke, I was hoping for a windfall. Sick, I was hoping to wake up and find all my aches gone, without taking a single pill. As if the act of hoping itself was enough to change reality. As if no action was needed, as if others had no hopes or actions of their own.

It is then that I felt the truth of Eliot’s quote. Hope is not expecting some fairy tale idea to come true, it is waiting for your actions to come to fruition. It is a matter of readiness: if chances are offered, being ready to risk, if opportunities arise, being ready to take them, if love occurs, being ready to embrace it.

Hope is now an awareness of the endless realm of possibilities, and the readiness to exploit them.

And for that, I must thank R. and T. S. Elliot.

And if you asking me what I have readied myself for, I’ll tell you: change and love. And I do not hope that they will happen. I know they will. If I am smart enough to see the possibilities and follow through.

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