It’s ironic how it’s such a small word. Just four letters, one syllable, to describe an emotion that has such a big presence in my life. Despite hope’s small word count (probably wouldn’t get too many points on Words With Friends), it can fill a large void; it can be what inspires us to get up in the morning. It’s gas for our engine.
I saw the word on the side of a barn tonight. Driving home and rocking out to Nicki Minaj, I randomly looked to my left on the empty country road. There, in white twinkle lights shining in the dark, it glowed:
It didn’t even register to me that it was on the side of the barn as part of the farmer’s Christmas decorations; when I first saw it, it just looked like the word floating in the air by itself. I felt like I was Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams” having my own “If you build it, they will come” moment. Then I realized it was part of spreading holiday cheer and I wasn’t as freaked out about “HOPE” randomly floating by a field like a sign from God himself or something.
Seeing this word ironically bright in the dark of night (at 6 p.m., sadly) made me realize how I never really thought about what hope means, or how many times I hope for something to happen or a situation to turn around. Life’s funny that way, I guess. Leave it to me to overanalyze a man’s Christmas lights and turn it into a blog.
I feel hope in huge doses and small glimmers. I feel it in those everyday situations: “I hope there’s good coupons in the newspaper this week;” “I hope I can get to doing my laundry this weekend;” “I hope the ice cream machine at McDonalds isn’t closed down for cleaning right now.”
Of course I feel it in the big stuff, those situations that tear at your heartstrings. I hope the surgery goes well. I hope I get this job. I hope that flash on my cell phone means it’s a missed call, an unread text message, from that person. I hope they still care, still think about me. I hope I’m not wasting my time.
I picture hope looking like my dad’s fishing line on his old fishing pole. When your heartstrings are tugged, stretched, pulled as far as they can go, hope is the wire to step in and wrap around the weak spots. Hope supports your heartstrings so your heart doesn’t shatter from the possible pain, the potential disappointment.
Sometimes it feels having hope can only lead to disappointment. Having hope could also mean getting hurt, your expectations unmet. The surgery doesn’t go well. Your date goes terribly. You didn’t make it through the job cuts. He’s dating someone new and damnit, she’s really pretty.
If having hope and getting your expectations up is the very reason your heart gets hurt, how do you fix it? How can you support your heart if the very thing that supports it is what caused it to hurt in the first place?
Having hope hurts sometimes.
And that sucks.
Last weekend was the Girls on the Run end of the season 5k race. It’s a big celebratory event, complete with pictures, photos, balloons, and parents coming to watch their girls and sing their praises, those much-needed “I’m so proud of you, honey” and “We watched you the whole time!” comments that these girls really need at this age. Come to think of it, I guess those comments are needed at any age.
During the race, one of our 9-year-old girls on our team was doing an amazing job running. She was pushing herself harder and faster; it was almost like she was a different girl. Her dad had come to the race to watch his daughter, but her mom could not make it. As our girl ran, my co-coaches and I raised our eyebrows at each other, all in silent agreement: “Can you believe this? Look at her go!” Throughout the past 10 weeks, we had never seen this girl run so hard or be so enthusiastic about running.
Near the end of the race, my co-coaches and I were taking a walking break with her. We had less than one mile to go until the 5k was complete. As we walked, our little running machine turned to us, her face flushed and her eyes bright and said, “I hope my mom comes. Wouldn’t it be great if she said she couldn’t come, then surprised me and showed up?”
When I heard that, I felt my heart break for this little girl. I knew her mom wasn’t coming to the race, but here her daughter was, running her hardest, listening to our praises, hoping her mom would be there. All she could think about and hang on to was the hope that maybe, just maybe, her mom would be there to cheer her on at the finish line.
We started running after that and she was one of our first girls on the team to finish the race. We cheered, we hollered, we high-fived, and told her how great she did. But her mom wasn’t there.
I think that’s where we learn it; those days when we are young and innocent and hope as much as we can. But then our hope is sometimes followed by disappointment, and the habit forms: We try to avoid feeling happy about something that could be somewhat exciting because we are scared of the disappointment. And if a situation ends up not going the way we want it to, then we are hurt, and it just confirms our belief that we shouldn’t have gotten our hopes up, shouldn’t have set such high expectations. Our bar of life is lowered. We settle.
And we try not to have hope.
I do it all the time. I spend a painstaking amount of energy in my attempts to keep the happy hope feelings at bay. Don’t raise your expectations, don’t set the bar too high, Lindsay. Happy situations call for a “I don’t want to get my hopes up” response or “I am not expecting anything; I don’t want to get hurt.”
But then, I think: Why? Why supress the hope? Why not get my expectations up?
It does hurt when you get let down, when your plans fall through, when people let you down…even with the little stuff. You don’t get to hang out with your friends like you wanted to. No, he didn’t call like he said he would. Yes, the machine at McDonalds is closed for cleaning right now. And man, I really wanted a Shamrock shake (aka the Best Shake Flavor in the World).
But at the same time, by supressing hope and feelings of excitement, what do you get then? Just mediocricity and living off of fear that this -whatever this is- might fall through, might not happen. I don't want to live my life half-heartedly because of what might be, what could happen.
Lucky for me, despite the disappointment, hope somehow still finds it way into my life. And I’m glad it does, even despite the times I get mad at myself for getting my hopes up. Hope is one of those feelings that reminds you you’re alive; just like pain and rejection are, as well. When life is hard, hope is one of the things you hold on to, one of the strings that keeps everything together. So I will hold on to hope, sometimes fall down from disappointments, and hold on again.