Hope is one of those little often-used four letter words which encompasses a working example of ambivalence.
And when I first registered that latter word, which refers to feeling two opposing things at the same time, it seemed you had to choose. That was what grown ups did. Then, as I grew older, I learned that there were other grownups, those who felt two things at the same time (love and hate, desire for two people, opposing points of view, wanting to make a change but holding fast to where you were) and tried to balance between the two. It’s pretty uncomfortable but most of us do it somewhere along the line.
Back to hope.
Old sayings like ”hope springs eternal” or “while there’s life, there’s hope” are what I call sayings “in the light”, how you think and feel when you have just heard from someone by letter or however else, when your hard-to-reach child touches you or his/her voice does, when there are a few pounds more than you thought there was, a stain comes out of your favourite sweater, … or it’s the first day you feel good after a long illness or the disintegration of a relationship.
And there is false hope – like wanting to be rescued from whatever life into something easier, finer, more secure. Like hoping the enemy won’t come, nor will the rain … false hope that if you behave differently, you will have another chance, that the next man will be better with money or the next woman will be better at sex. (It’s worth remembering that on both sides of the Atlantic, the most usual reasons for breakup are sex and money, or money and sex.) Most of us balance in the middle of this too. Sometimes we hope and sometimes we don’t.
Or we think – “it’s my turn” – like my father filling in the Pools for years and talking about what he’d do when the ship came in. But there was no ship. He had his “flutter”, all he could afford, and he had his hope. Love him as I do, every time I find myself dreaming like that, I deliberately puncture the shining balloon. It’s tougher, I know, but I prefer my mother’s version: “expect nothing and have a nice surprise”. Hope is emotionally expensive and most of the time I can’t afford it.
When the great love of my life proved how disappointing he could be, I had a friend who talked about how she was sure (another four letter word) there would be somebody else. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion but over time, I became very unhappy about her “hope”. As it remained unfulfilled, I began to feel that I had failed at something, maybe a whole series of things, but I was damned if I knew what.
This was alongside acknowledging that it takes two to make a mess as well as a success.
Last night I watched a movie in which Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin play a divorced couple, he remarried to less than perfect happiness. They meet, have a wonderful evening and begin an affair. Like many movies, it was too long, and 45 minutes before the end, I switched off, fatigued by the character’s perennial girlishness. It’s as if silly is youthful and the currency of youth is hope, so that in spite of ten years’ painful learning, she failed to recognise the unchanging nature of this leopard’s spots. He thought of himself first, last and always. And perceived Hollywood wisdom has it that you must have a man (especially if you’re a leading lady). So (thanks to MovieSpoiler) I know that she traded the old one in for a new one, having put herself through the wringer and treated her loving and quite grown up enough to understand children as though they were thick, a triumph of hope over experience.
A much smaller TV movie based on an Ophra Winfrey endorsed bestseller with a cast led by Sissy Spacek and Beau Bridges featured a divorced woman who fell in love with a con artist and who eventually, not withstanding loneliness and financial exposure, and the fact that they all wanted to love him, opted for her own and her children’s integrity. That’s a triumph of a different kind of hope, a more realistic kind that says you can be your own person and still have joy, living in the moment that laughter and tears are close, instead of in a future that may never arrive.