On the Nature of Hope

When I have hope, I feel invincible. That isn’t an exaggeration. When I have a goal and I can picture attaining it, it feels like nothing in the world can stop me. Often, these moments get out of hand, and I get too excited. I try to reign myself in, but usually I fail. I feel a little dumb for getting overexcited, but I do not dislike this aspect of myself. I am a big fan of hope. I think it is pretty great.

When I was twenty, I worked for AT&T Broadband, which is now Comcast. Through a series of poor management decisions, I wound up not getting trained for five months. I spent that time riding along with various other technicians, and at some point my manager paired me up with a Romanian immigrant named Traian. He was an energetic, older man in his mid-forties. We had a shared interest in film and music, and he was a huge fan of small cafes. He would often talk about the differences between life in the US and his home country. One day, while talking about opportunities and expectations, he surprised me with one of the best compliments I have ever received in my life:

“You can’t stay at AT&T, man. This job is total bullshit. You’re a dreamer,” he said. “The first one I met here. That’s good. Gives me hope and shit.”

It’s a hell of a compliment, and I let it go entirely to my head. It meant so much to me that I wrote it down so I could remember it. In tough times, there are memories that I return to in order to bolster my spirits, and it is one of them.

I often wonder what other people think of me. Occasionally, I ask, but I rarely get the answer I want. Many people see me as a pessimist, or, more kindly, a realist. While I can’t deny that I do sometimes assume or expect the worst, those feelings usually stem from an already bad situation or prior experience. One friend of mine often refers to me as a masochist, which I find laughable. I do not enjoy being unhappy. I’m just not willing to give up or settle for too little when it comes to things that really matter to me.

I often describe myself as a frustrated optimist, because I hope for the best and things just don’t seem to work out for me. I don’t expect perfection — nothing in life is perfect, after all — but I am often disappointed by people and things not meeting what I feel are usually reasonable expectations. I don’t dwell on things that don’t matter to me, but when something that does matter to me falls apart, it bothers me a great deal. I don’t think that’s pessimism. I certainly don’t think that’s masochism. Like most people, I’d like the things I wish and hope for to come true. Like some people, I put effort into the things that really matter to me. I think that anyone who doesn’t get what they were hoping to out of something that means a great deal to them can be allowed to feel at least a little upset by such events. I don’t think that is antithetical to my hopeful nature. In fact, I think it is quite reflective of it.

When Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was in theatres, I wound up seeing it with an ex-girlfriend. We were attempting to remain friends, and the subject of the film made the entire experience awkward. For the uninitiated, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is about two former lovers having their memories of the other and their relationship erased in order to move on. They wind up re-connecting, having no idea they’d already met, and even when they discover their past, they decide to try again anyway.

There is no greater way to illustrate the difference between our ways of thinking than the ending. When my ex asked how I felt about the ending, I said, “It’s nice. They get a second chance.”

“No, that’s not what it means,” she told me. “It means they are doomed to repeat their mistakes.”

The ending is open to interpretation, of course, so either one of us could have been right. However, it cemented in my mind that I am a hopeful person. I believe in second chances, in occasional good luck, and I like the idea of the underdog sometimes triumphing over their oppressor. As hard as it is to hold onto sometimes, hope is powerful. It is important.

One of my favorite moments in The Sandman occurs in issue four: Morpheus visits Hell and competes against a demon named Choronzon in The Oldest Game, also referred to as The Game of Forms. You can read more about it here, but the gist of it is that each player names a thing which can defeat that which the other player said before it. For example, the demon opens as a wolf. Morpheus counters with a hunter on horseback. The demon returns as a horsefly, which stings the horse and throws the rider off. This continues on and on. Morpheus becomes a spider to eat the fly, the demon a snake. Morpheus names himself an ox, the demon becomes anthrax. Eventually, Choronzon declares himself anti-life, the darkness at the end of all things.

Morpheus counters with hope. The demon becomes flummoxed.

Hope can carry you through almost anything. Sometimes, it takes a little foolishness or madness to hold onto. Still, a little foolish or a little mad, it’s better than having no hope at all. Without hope, without dreams, would we strive for anything?

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