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A Hold On Hope, Part Two

What does it mean to have hope? I know Emily Dickinson’s definition of the bird that perches in the soul, but what about here in the real world? With boots on the ground, I am moving through—or trudging through—this life of mine, surveying the horizon and seeking guidance, a wayward point that will give me something to aim for. 

As a noun, hope is defined as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” As a verb, it’s to “want something to happen or be the case.” Suppose I keep googling while asking myself why hope is essential. In that case, I find this sentiment from the website “Hope reduces feelings of helplessness, increases happiness, reduces stress, and improves our quality of life.” So, hope is a valuable tool in my emotional arsenal, one I need to have at the ready when life charges at me and tries to knock me backward. 

Hope should be as easy to cultivate as despair, but it doesn’t always feel that way. Hope feels fleeting, like Dickinson’s bird. It rests in the soul for a time, but it is easily startled and will flutter away if not given the right environment and nourishment. I have to create an internal space where hope can live and flourish. I must not allow my mind to dictate my feelings, especially when I am in a place of self-doubt. In that state, I am susceptible to negative and faulty input. I will believe everything those dark voices tell me, even as I recognize they don’t want what’s best for me. 

If hope is a desire for a particular thing to happen, I must decide what thing or things I want to experience. This means that hope is directly tied to purpose. If I have something to look forward to and work toward, my life feels purposeful. If I lose meaning, I lose hope; they walk arm-in-arm with me. I must accept that I am the only one who can create meaning for my life. I expect some external force or person to show up and give me direction. No one is coming. It’s only me here, figuring out each step along my hero’s journey. 

Joseph Campbell had the right idea. Each of us has to leave home, go on a quest for our unique Holy Grail, and then return with the news of what we learned. During that adventure, we are changed, for good or ill. We must determine how our journey will shape us and what lessons we will take from it. I have to choose optimism over pessimism. I must continue to turn my face toward the light so the shadows fall behind me (I think I’m paraphrasing Nabokov). I must stay on my path and follow my North Star. The journey is all I have; it has to feed my soul and nurture my spirit. Anything less is not worth pursuing.

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