“It is because of hope that you suffer. It is through hope that you’ll change things.”– Maxime Lagacé
“Mrs. Hill, I hope you have a good Christmas,” the child stated in a formal voice unique to this person. “And, I hope that 2021 is better than 2020 because 2020 was really, really bad.”
I could not have summed up the sentiment any better, and yet those words clung to me like a sweaty t-shirt in the summer, clinging and bunching in ways that make me want to be shed of its weight. As I pondered those words throughout the weekend, I realized that they weighed on me beyond the obvious. Later, it occurred to me that reflected in those words were two seemingly opposing concepts: hope and control.
As a Reading/Language Arts teacher and writer, I rely on precise word meaning. I teach students to not only use the Merriam-Webster online dictionary and thesaurus as a tool to begin to understand word meaning, but to also look at the parts of speech a word may possess because how a word is used is just as important as its definition. Therefore, when I looked up the definition of hope, I immediately noticed that hope, according to Merriam-Webster, is most often used as a verb–an action. However, its second most popular definition identifies hope as a noun–an idea. Likewise, the same can be said for the functioning of the word control–verb first, noun second.
“The more you try to control something, the more it controls you. Free yourself, and let things take their own natural course.”–Leon Brown
Part of our collective suffering during 2020 is our desire for control. We have wished, as the definition of control states, to “directly influence,” or “have power over,” numerous events of this past calendar year. Whether we were desiring to influence others’ behavior, or wishing to exert power over the virus, vaccine, and/or authorities, in order for, “things to get back to normal,” most of us have looked, and maybe even continue to look, for ways to gain control and, “get our lives back.” The thing is though, that very act of living means that we do have our lives, and we can only exert control over our own life behaviors, thoughts, actions, and reactions. However, we can hope for a different way of interacting and living; and, that is the rub. How do we hope, while attempting to not try to control others, situations, and outcomes?
Most of us, including myself, want to control things that frighten us.
I want my friend to stop smoking because I’m afraid she’s going to die of lung cancer, and I don’t want to lose her.
I want my parent(s) to be well because I am afraid of life without them in it.
I want my job to pay well because I am afraid I won’t be able to pay the bills and live the way I want to live.
I want my child to be successful because I am afraid they won’t be able to care of themselves.
On and on the examples could go, but the bottom line is our desire to control stems from our worry, but I would argue that, also from our hope. Looking at the above examples, let me rephrase them.
I hope my friend is always around because I value her friendship and companionship.
I hope my parent(s) live(s) as long as I do because I love them so very much.
I hope my job’s salary continues to increase with the cost of living because I value living a certain way.
I hope my child is gainfully employed because I will not be their safety net forever.
Merriam-Webster’s definition of hope includes, “to cherish a desire with anticipation.”
To. Cherish. A. Desire.
As a society, we had no idea how very much we cherished our so-called “normal” way of living–the freedom to gather where, when, and how we wanted without the confines of masks, distance, and limited numbers. We desired and relished in the freedom of dining out surrounded by the hubbub and energy that comes with a restaurant enlivened and energized with sounds of overlapping conversations and laughter. Arenas, stadiums, or theaters filled with fans of a particular sport, performer, or other forms of entertainment were also treasured and long-established society traditions. Gathering in groups with loved and/or friends in one another’s homes, churches, or social halls–the list could go on–was another cherished activity. Nonetheless, we cannot control the outcomes of when/if any or all of these items will return. Certainly, we can hope, as a child hopes for a prized present at Christmas, but we cannot control what/when (it) will happen.
What can we do? We can start by taking cues from nature. Nature naturally cycles through seasons; and, by the time this piece of writing is published, the winter solstice will have occurred at 5:02 am ET on December 21–the shortest day of the year. With the coming of winter, the increased darkness and colder temperatures allow plants to go dormant in order to rest and gather strength for the upcoming growing season. Additionally, the frost, and other cold weather events, act as a force to help plants grow stronger and produce more roots, leaves, branches, fruits, and flowers. Insect populations are reduced. The nights are the longest and darkest of the year allowing the stars to seemingly shine at their brightest. And, that, Dear Friend, was my lesson to learn.
Like the stars in the winter sky, hope is twinkling in the darkened, but distant future. Starlight may take light years to reach our eyes on Earth, but it does span the distance. We cannot control the brightness of the stars any more than we control “the little virus that could” in 2020, but we can rest in the knowledge that we can control our reactions, our thoughts, our choices; and, we can let “it” go–let go our desires to influence or have power over things for which we cannot control. Instead, let us, as the dictionary offers as a secondary definition for hope, “expect with confidence” that we can fearlessly move forward through our current darkness, and brightly focus on what we can do to make each day better for ourselves and others.
Psychologists know that simply envisioning, aka hoping for, a better future, can make even the darkest of situations feel more bearable. In fact, hope serves as a link from our past to our present day situation. Envisioning returning to our former life habits can make the current negative changes and consequences of life during a pandemic more bearable.
With the coming of the winter solstice, each day grows one minute longer in the amount of light provided. Likewise, our future is growing brighter, bit by little bit. Soon enough, we will emerge into the spring of a new era. We will forge ahead, creating a more positive future . . . .
Let us infinitely hope.
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”— Martin Luther King Jr