In his column last week, Michael Fitzgerald went digging for silver linings in the dark clouds hanging over our heads these days. In her reflection on personal mortality, into which she invited the rest of us, Jackie Augustine embraced MLK’s reversal wisdom that the our challenge is not so much what we are willing to die for as it is what we are willing to live for. Both articles inspired me, and along with a text exchange that keeps echoing in my thoughts, maybe even indicted me.
Here is a brief back and forth in that text chain with an old friend:
Friend “My heart is heavy.”
Me ”What happened?”
Friend “RBG passed.”
Me ”Oh no! I was hoping against hope she could make it.”
Friend ”Why do the bad guys keep winning?
Me “Sometimes they do. But the truth is we all die, including the bad guys.”
Friend ”I know that’s true. I am just sad.”
First of all, my response was utterly pathetic. Instead of recognizing and sharing in my friend’s sadness I offered bloodless philosophical tripe. I often go to my head before my heart when in the presence of pain. It is a palliative I need to ration more carefully.
What I felt in Jackie’s and Michael’s columns was a poke to hope. Hope – not wishful thinking, which is another kind of analgesic. Meaningful hope, like love, is a verb. It is muscular and imbued with action. Wishful thinking on the other hand, is passive; even passive-aggressive because when our wish is not fulfilled we may get hostile on our way to becoming cynical.
The difference is witnessed by people who complain about the way things are but do not vote, and those who vote and maybe even finance or campaign for a candidate. Wishful thinking is not wearing a mask while hope practices the full range of pandemic precautions. Hope dedicates a portion of personal income – when not in financial crisis – to give away to people and organizations addressing human needs. Wishful thinking imagines how the world “should” be, often based upon personal self-interest, but does little to make it happen. Hope recognizes our limited perspective and insufficient information and takes action to address a problem anyway. Wishful thinking, unlike Jackie’s invitation, spends little time or energy reflecting on whether our actions embody our values. Hope on the other hand, is clear that integrity is measured by the distance between what we say we cherish and how we live.
Even something that seems like it has little social value, like me practicing the courage to stay with my feelings rather than retreat into my head, is an act of hope. Michael naming the silver linings is an act of hope. Jackie staring into her own mortality as a way to touch gratitude and value the people in her life, is an act of hope. Your making a plan to vote and then doing it, is an act of hope. The great things that happen in this world are the result of an accumulation, then avalanche, of all our little acts of hope.
Thanks Jackie and Michael, for poking me.