This year, a friend of mine has made a small but miraculous recovery. A condition that was supposed to be permanently heart splittingly awful has relented slightly. It’s become just... pretty awful. She’s made a tentative, partial recovery in a condition that almost never improves, and that hadn’t budged in decades.
“It’s good that you never gave up a hope” a different friend says to me.
It’s a statement that makes me furious. Because I did give up hope. So much. In the early days, hope was a curse that drove my friend through torturous treatment after treatment. A curse that told her kids that accepting her condition and learning to adjust to the new situation was a betrayal of their mother. Hope kept us all living in the future instead of loving what we could in each moment.
Giving up hope was an act of loving my friend as she was, instead of some image of who we might be able to transform her into. It was an act of claiming our present, and building what relationships we could in our new reality.
“But hope kept you visiting her.” My friend points out.
No, it didn’t. Love kept me visiting her. I didn’t visit her because I thought she would get better. I visited her because I loved her whether or not she got better. And giving up hope strengthened that loving resolve because it allowed me to shift from sprinter to marathoner—and that’s what kept me going when the visits were hard.
“Hope kept you looking for a treatment.” Is another one I heard. No, it didn’t. Treatment continued because that’s what you do. You can take the actions of hope without feeling hope. Treatment was sensible. And it provided her some relief in her day to day life.
Giving up hope was a gift that allowed us—and most importantly, her—to rest.
And when the time came, hope found us again.
Sometimes, keeping hope alive can become a kinda Stockholm-ey situation. Sometimes, hope stops carrying you on the journey and becomes the stitch in your side that will not let up as you struggle to carry yourself. It becomes the forced twist up of the corners of your mouth when someone chirps “are feeling any better today?” And you really, really aren’t.
You can be hopeless, if you want. Just for a bit, if that's all you need.
Hope is no Old Testament Diety declaring “thou shalt have no other Gods before me”. If you want to cheat on hope and spend the night crying and screaming and eating stale cookies out of the box, you can do that.
Sometimes, hopelessness is just a desperately needed rest. Sometimes, it’s time for a day off. You need that moment of despair and to acknowledge that no, this might not all turn out for the best. That maybe the universe sometimes does give you more than you can really handle. And the universe DEFINITELY gives you more than you can handle with a smile plastered across your face.
Sometimes, you have to give up on the discipline of hope because it’s just too noisy. Sometimes, you need the quietness to really weigh whether the chemo is worth it, or to sit with your grief and uncertainty about whether it is actually possible to save the planet or your marriage. Or to acknowledge that you can’t do one more night without sleep with this baby and it doesn’t matter if everyone else is able to do it, you are going to need a friend to come over and rescue you because you aren’t equal to this. Sometimes, you need to shut the hope down long enough to know your strength. Where it starts, where it lives, and where it ends. Sometimes, the whispered guidance that despair offers is just what you need, to learn your own limits. To know when to call for help.
Sometimes, despair is a good thing.
For a while.
I don’t recommend living there. Despair is, like hope, not a good place to set up permanent camp. They are both places in the future. They are maybes. And sometimes one or the other holds on to you and won’t let go, but for god’s sake, don’t return their grip.
You can be agnostic about hope. You can just refuse to weigh in on the issue. You can decide to stop thinking about permanent recovery and just make it through this day, this moment. You can sit in the colours of the fall day and just think about this one day, and not whether you’ll be here to see it next year. If you want. You can fight for justice and rejoice in every person you reach, and cry for every person you can’t get to, without deciding whether your efforts will be “enough”. You can just reach because you are a reacher. You can stop living like this moment is the prologue to story that is about a future success. You can live like this is the story. This moment. In it’s good and it’s bad.
They say you “lose hope”, like it is a thing that will slip beneath the waves if you aren’t clenching it tightly in your raised fist. Or maybe it’s you that will slip beneath the waves if you don’t say your affirmations or write your gratitudes. But that’s not how it works.
So, you can take a rest from hope, if you want.
When the time comes, it’ll find you again. It knows where you live.