Thursday, May 29, 2008

Hope (part 1)

For a long time, I’ve had mixed feelings about hope. It’s a sparkly idea and all, and would have made a great monosyllabic middle name for our fourth daughter had we had triplets, going nicely with the twins’ “Grace” and “Faith.”

But I have a couple beefs about the whole idea of hope.

Beef #1: People hoping for change too often are people sitting on the sidelines complaining about the status quo and waiting for someone else to alter it. Rather than saying, “I hope such-and-such occurs,” I’d rather say, “Here’s what I want and here’s what I’m doing to create it.” Victims and slaves hope. As a free person, why not act instead?

And here’s Beef #2: When I’m hoping for something better down the line, I’m probably missing out on something great right here and now. C.S. Lewis wrote in his autobiography, Surprised By Joy, that in his miserable years of boarding school, perhaps the best thing he learned about the Christian walk was to live by hope—ever looking forward to the freedom and bliss of holiday. But wasn’t every moment he spent fantasizing about what was to come a moment lost on embracing what was? Isn’t every ounce of energy I spend pining for the future an ounce lost on appreciating the present? “Hope” seems like a happy, shiny word for “procrastinating happiness.” I say, why not have it now?

My kids make me think about this whole thing. Though their lives are far less miserable than schoolboy Lewis’s was, they too live by hope, always looking forward to what is next. “When is my birthday?” asks Melía daily. “What tind bir'day party I am doing have?” She savors conversation about an event that is months away, living in regular communion with the ghosts of birthday future. We think this is cute and go with it.

I’m sure I did plenty of this as a kid. But I remember my parents reminding me how precious the present was. They told me that my childhood years were the best of my life, that if anything, our growing up was happening too fast. This kind of talk did give me a certain trepidation about the onslaught of adulthood stress, but it also taught me to seize the day, because tomorrow is not likely to be any better than today. I wonder if I am doing too little of this with my kids.

I motivate my kids through difficult circumstances with hope. But I don’t like it. Last night I took the three girls to a former student’s graduation, a boring prospect even for people with attention spans longer than a Dora the Explorer episode. We swung through the evening like Tarzan from bribery to bribery: ice cream sandwiches if they got out to the car quickly, McDonald’s if they behaved during graduation, Blue’s Clues if they refrained from fighting my pajama-donning and tooth-brushing efforts. It’s embarrassing to write about. But it worked.

Is hope just something the powers that be, whether good or evil, use to manipulate us?

I have stories to tell about my kids’ hope that are making me question my questions about the value of hope. I’ll share a few next time….

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