On Hope

I wrote this about fifteen years ago but the idea that we be there for one another, that we provide hope, seems even more timely now.


As I’ve gotten older I’ve had a harder and harder time with the concept of hope.    Read too much.  Too many newspapers.  Too much internet. Too many news programs.   It’s a tough world out there.   I hope things will work out but I’m not surprised when they don’t.  I hope for the best but I prepare for the worst.  Because hope is not expectation.  Hope contains a small element of doubt.  Just hoping.  And hope and faith are not the same thing.  Faith suggests confidence and assurance.   Yes, it will all work out in the end!   Even if it doesn’t.  Hope, on the other hand, suggests that the best is not a given, that there is a need for outside intervention and if it’s not forthcoming, well….  one can only hope.

And why not?  The opposite of hope is hopelessness.

Imagine.  To be without hope.   To be in a place of no hope.  No hope for the present.  No hope for the future.   No way out.   No rescue.   No help.   No hope.

No.  Hope is a choice we make.   By choosing to hope, by giving others hope, we make hope real.  At least real enough.

This is real enough.

My son met his honorary godmother, Jodie, when he was four and she became our neighbor.   He would go over and they would sit outside on the terrace and they would chat.  Sometimes he would just sit as she worked in the yard.  And smoked.

My son has autism.

Jodie got him.   Applauded him.  Never got impatient with him.  Their relationship grew deeper over the years.   “I’m going to “Jode’s” my son would say and off he’d go.  Daily.  Twice on Saturdays and Sundays.   She was patient and watchful and wise and for a little boy who had trouble making friends, she was the friend.

Several years ago Jodie moved to Berkeley to be closer to her daughter who had recently given birth to twins and needed the help.   Her departure was tearful and difficult.   For all of us.  But especially them.

I will see you, my son kept repeating, as much a question as it was a statement.  And every single time Jodie answered, we will see each other.  And you will call me.  And I will call you.   Now give me another hug.  Even though we would always see Jodie once or twice a year, their relationship became one of cards and holiday gifts and letters and long phone calls.   Twice on weekends.

This last spring Jodie called to tell us she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Lung cancer.

I’m not sure how but my son understands death.   At least well enough.  You will be gone, he’d tell her on the phone.  I’ll be in the clouds watching you, she’d say.  You’ll be watching me, he’d say.

In July, my wife and son went to Berkley to visit Jodie.   He and Jodie did what they always did.   They sat on the couch..   They laughed.   They reminisced.    My son likes to start most conversations with, “Do you remember the time?”   And of course, Jodie did.   You are the best, she said.  Don’t you forget it.

I will never see you again, my son said.   A question as much as a statement.

No, but you will take some of my ashes and you will put them in the ground under our favorite tree, she said and we’ll be close to one another.

Okay, he said.

My wife and son returned.  He and Jodie talked on the phone whenever  Jodie could.  Every other day.  Twice on Sundays.   Two indomitable spirits.  Still, she grew weaker.  It was harder and harder for her to breathe.

The last time he called, Jodie couldn’t speak but asked her daughter to tell my son that she loved him.   Love you too, my son said.

And then, Jodie passed away.

When we told him, my son was very quiet.   As if he was trying to puzzle it out.   And then after a while, he went out in the yard to pick flowers.  He brought them in.  He put them in bowl.   Just the blossoms.   And then, he took them next store to what had been Jodie’s house.   He put the bowl on a table in front of an outdoor couch just like the one where he and Jodie used to sit.  And then he came quietly home.  Not sad.   Full of the hope he’d been given over the years.

By Jodie.

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