120. Hope


In the mental health business hope is an indicator of health, optimism, and faith. The opposite of hope, hopelessness, is an indicator of bad times and often correlates with suicide attempts. “I’ve lost all hope” is a pre-suicide cliche. So by extension hope correlates with life, and hopelessness with death. I’ve known a few unfortunate souls who suffered from intense chronic pain. Not surprisingly they thought of death as a reasonable pain killer. They did not want to die, just to end their suffering. They had lost hope of their pain ending; lost faith in their painkillers; and decided to kill the pain receptor, i.e., themselves.

It’s a hard sell to try and persuade someone back into their pain wracked body. It’s comparable to encouraging a battered spouse to go back into his/her marriage. I would never try to persuade a battered spouse to return to a battering partner. Yet, I would try to walk and talk a chronic sufferer back into their pain dump. Not because I am a cruel sadist and derive pleasure from another’s pain. No, my position is more rooted in the value of life and,of course, the hope of cure. I believe in better times and have walked through many dark valleys with folks who were ready to cash out their chips. So far, no suicides have occurred on my watch. None of the credit belongs to me; all of it belongs to the concept and practice of hoping for better days, and the strength of the hoper.

Years ago I recall a conversation with my one good buddy who was swatting at the flies of suicide in his mind. “Been this way for fifty years, Man. No chance. Gotta face it.” I argued a bit that the past is not the ruler of the future. He disagreed. “The past rules. No, once the bell is rung, you can’t unring it.”

“True, but you don’t have to march to the same cadence to the end of your life. What if Act Three of your life is all about redemption and joy? You’ll miss it because you bought the message of the first two acts of your life.” Fortunately for him, the love of his life was just around the corner. He is one of the happiest guys I know now, except when he bosses me around and I won’t cooperate.

Today I am back in Arizona with my daughter and brand new granddaughter, Leah Grace. It’s a surreal experience as I feel and hear my granddaughter’s little kitten breaths while she slumbers on my chest. She curls her little hands together and clings like a baby possum to its mother. The circle of life is complete, and something very satisfying is rising up in my core. I suppose it is joy. Eight pounds of gentle quiet joy. She resembles her mother whom I can barely remember cradling in my arms 26 years ago. The old photos show a svelt young me with full black hair and big 80’s glasses. Wow! A full generation has passed. Back then I am sure I hoped and prayed for a healthy and wonderful life for my baby at that time, Grace Marie. My wife and I were so grateful to God that we could have another child after losing one in 1984. We hoped all the more because of the deep pain we had suffered through with the loss of baby #2, Lisa Ellen. It’s funny: you don’t hope for what you have. Hope is the thing that keeps you going when you are at the bottom of an abandoned well, calling for help, hoping a Good Samaritan passes by. You don’t practice hope if you are securely standing beside the well. Still, I hope and pray for this precious child, that she will have a healthy and wonder-filled life. I can realistically hope to hold her child one day, God willinng. I can cast my hope out there another 26 years… I’ll be 82 and teetering on the Grand Canyon of life. What a blessing that would be!

For the moment I will content myself with hope for a good night’s sleep for her devoted mother and father.  Ever wonder what your life would be like if your kids were your parents? In some faint reflective way, they are. The DNA may commingle and dilute, but there are traits of my parents in my children. My wife is adopted, so the trail ends with her. My folks were odd people, let me tell you. They married late for their generation due to the Big War. My mother wrote to many GI’s during WWII because it was the patriotic thing to do. Plus, there weren’t many men available in Boston in the early 1940’s. My dad wrote back. He returned in person and hung out with my uncles. Amazingly none of my uncles was killed or injured in the War, though one was held for two years in a Nazi prison camp. Think he needed some hope?  And his family who faithfully sent him packages that he never received. Hope might have been an empty box, but it still contained a loving spirit if not cookies and bread and chocolate. However, what if he had received every package sent and never made it home? That would have been the empty box, the coffin. Instead he was liberated and made it back to Boston. Bob fathered nine kids, by the way. He lived a full life and was much loved when he died a  timely death a few years back.

The old saying goes, “Be careful what you hope for. You might just get it.” Well, thus far my life has exceeded my hopes and dreams, and there is more ahead. Amen.

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