Hope: some notes

by Jeff Oaks

Today seems to be a day of peace for the construction next door, so I’m actually thinking about other things than my house falling over. 

Specifically, I’m supposed to read next Saturday at an event whose theme is Hope. I’m doing it because I admire the organizer, who is a colleague and friend of mine. She is someone I think of as serious, as in: not given to superficial gestures, which in a time of panic only waste everyone’s energies. 

In my journal today I tried writing directly about hope, because it’s not a thing I think about directly. Here’s where I got:

It can be practiced. It can be an obstacle. 

We might think of Trump as an embodiment of half the country’s desperate hope, a kind of Hail Mary pass. Unfortunately, there was no one else on the field, only an imagined blitz that never came. Equally Unfortunate: the ball seems to have been caught by someone in a corporate viewing box. 

I didn’t know if, after my mother died, I’d have hope enough to live. I did. She had so much hope for us that I didn’t think about whether I’d been depositing my own self-generated hope into that same account. When she died, though, she’d made it abundantly clear she hoped my brother and I would live again, that we wouldn’t lose hope.

Is hope really hope if you can only imagine a single ending to any dilemma? I’d say no. To hope to control doesn’t seem real hope, which allows multiple possibilities, some conservative, some exuberantly delicious and unexpected. To hope is different from to expect. Or to win, which has an ending. Hope doesn’t. It extends endlessly into the future.

Who against hope believed in hope (Romans 4:18)

in which “against” seems to have meant “without rational reasons to”. Here it might be seeping into faith, which is a starched kind of hope, an obedient form.

Most of my hope these days is placed in (or do I mean “on”?) my students. Paradoxically perhaps because I’m not sure what they have to hope for in whatever world the Republicans are currently trying to project from their own feverish dreams into (or is it on?) the real world. You can see how little hope the Republicans have in their own ideological desires–the way they hide things, the way they keep trying to act as if words have no meanings but the ones they want them to have, their crooked little closed-mouth smiles. They have no hope in individuals.

There are many who hope it will all just go away and don’t care how–acts of god, rabid politicians devouring each other, military coup, legionnaire’s disease. I’m not sure that any of those are hopeful. Although some fantasies can lead out of despair and toward the first hopeful act of voting.

I hope for the student–which one, I don’t know–who, after my class, somehow manages to sneak into deserted places, heartless places, sterile places, with a few lines of poetry intact, the way a positive virus might enter into an unbalanced body and awaken it, re-orient it toward surprise, humor, depth, humanity. 

Hope is hard to think about without metaphors, which are ways of organizing or mobilizing hope maybe.

When there is no hope you can articulate, hope anyway. The world is wild with possibilities. That’s my hope anyway.

My hope that my house will keep standing when the contractors come and bulldoze and excavate the lot next door is a very small hope in light of the other hopes here. There is plenty of, indeed overwhelming, reason to trust that nothing awful will happen. 

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