An article in The Age recently wrote about hope that massages most people into looking forward to better times, even in the midst of dark times. According to the article, the Oxford Dictionary defines hope as expectation and desire combined, but while the writer reflected on the complex conundrum that hope can embody, he didn’t address what the underlying inspiration for having hope really is. What makes a human being hope when only darkness envelops him/her? Maybe Fyodor Dostoyesky sums it up in the article by writing: To live without hope is to cease to live. I have oft pondered why more people don’t actually commit suicide when it appears to me that their lives seem bleak, utterly depressing and full of profound despair; be they those who live in abject poverty, in violent relentless wars and suffer endless pain and torment, often through no fault of their own. Is it hope that life will improve that keeps them living or simply that the human spirit to survive is much stronger in adversity than most of can even contemplate? Moreover, is it the loss of hope for a better life that does impel some people to take their own life? Of course, I can’t answer for others, but I’ve written that more than three decades ago I did entertain suicide and also when I was 19 years old, but never even tried on either occasion. Why not? Simply because I didn’t want to die- just had to find how to live again in ways that made me feel reasonably happy with who I was (at those times) as I was lucky that in my past, I had indeed enjoyed feeling happy and positive and enjoyed much of my life. I just wanted to get back to those good feelings instead of being overwhelmed by negative feelings, which I went on to work out on my own were mostly projected onto me by so many others, criticising and belittling me for being the human being I was. To say I’ve never had suicidal thoughts again is true and much of it is to do with the expectations I have of myself and ridding myself about what I expect of others and what others may expect of me. So, do those who live in hope of change for the better- of themselves, their circumstances, their governments and their economic position depend on themselves or others and is it as simple as that? Or is there a balance between what you can achieve on your own and what others need to contribute before that hope translates into a really better life? I’ve heard people talk about others ‘pulling themselves up by the bootstrap’ as if one person alone and on his/her own can make all the changes they need to do to improve their lives. It’s as if a man is an island, and for most of us, that just isn’t real or true. Reality is that we depend on others a lot for our individual well being; just having food, clothing and shelter is paramount to live and the other enjoyments of life can only flow on when these basics are at least met. For millions of people these basics are not met; yet, they continue to live and who knows, hope?
The author of the article wrote:” It (hope – ‘the diamond in the ashes’) resides in every human breast, and though it has to fight for its existence, it is the thing that drives the will in people to survive and improve their lot and the lot of others. Hope bestows dignity.” It is a brilliant comment on an intangible emotional sense for all of us who live through hard times and that’s most of us at different times in our lives. Yet so many conservative politicians damn the welfare state, beckoning all people to simply survive on their own even when fate deals them an unkind hand; be it being ripped off by bogus money schemes, forced into prolonged unemployment and or a myriad of other things that can confuse and depress even the most optimistic and positive. Somewhere, hope transcends reality, but is it merely fantasy that helps get us through those dark and hard times? I am calling hope a fantasy of a kind; a fantasy because while we may cling to the hope that life will only improve for us, too often reality intrudes to shake us out of our hope so what are we left with? And what is the cost of ignoring that painful reality where you really know many aspects of your life won’t improve at all? You know at 65, that you’ll never get another well-paying job, that you’ll never have enough money to really enjoy yourself again, that you may find yourself unable to pay the rent, pay your bills, feed yourself well and so many other things that what indeed is hope for a better life based on? Where is the comfortable fit of fantasy and reality? Of hope instead of despair?
For me, understanding the need to nurture hope even entertain fantasies about what may be one day is to understand that expectations and desires do indeed change as we come to appreciate what we can achieve on our own and what realities depend on others; giving us a chance at employment, a roof over our heads to live in peace, and a government that provides a pension so I can feed myself when my limits as an individual can only achieve so much. Indeed, as poet John Donne penned – no man is an island – so understanding what we can do on our own with limited economic resources is to understand how reality operates without abandoning the hope that we can still enjoy ourselves some of the time. The hope not just for food, clothing and shelter, but an equally important aspect of life is love; love of self and others; finding friends to share laughter and tears with, good reciprocated conversation, frivolous exchange too, as the song sings – people who need people are the luckiest people in the world – that is hope; finding people to share with, enjoy with, even argue with at times, but with respect and dignity for opinion and fact, without recrimination or revenge. Sometimes I go to bed with fantasy in my dreams; it’s harmless as I know it’s a fantasy but it does work to lull me into a peaceful slumber knowing at the same time it is nothing but a fantasy and that tomorrow is another day and you don’t know who you will meet to talk to, laugh with, gossip with, have a drink with and whatever. As much as life is about hope, it is also full of the unexpected; the surprises, and as I once wrote; the unexpected is the keynote of joy – so hope is about expecting the unexpected; whatever it may be. Sometimes, the unexpected is indeed fatal, a terminal illness, the loss of a loved one, the sadness that can spring upon us through no fault of our own. It is the complexity of life with its expectations as well as the unexpected that can imbue us with hope; life is indeed short and I realise that more and more as the years tick by as I confront my own mortality. Yet, I still feel young, alive and thriving in some ways to enjoy myself and others as I can and as the article included courtesy of poet Alexander Pope – hope springs eternal!