Hope with your feet
I knew I would love The John Laroquette show from the very first episode – a cynical, sarcastic, self-deprecating, trying-to-get/stay-sober alcoholic who had bottomed out after losing everything and was desperately trying to piece his life back together without getting too attached to it, without allowing himself to care too much about it.
Not that I identified in any way to this character setting. Not that I appreciated the gallows humor a little too well. At all. Actually, what drew me in, what made me exhale in easy recognition was a sign that hung on the wall of John’s office:
This is a dark ride.
Five words that captured my life, framed everything, in perfect context. You must know (by now) that one of my mottoes is “Why use ten words when a hundred will do?” But there, hanging on the (fake) wall of the (fake) bus station’s (fake) night manager’s (fake) office was this five-word sign. A sign of absolute and immutable truth: this is a dark ride.
Angels could have sung in 27-part harmony, while demons and dybbuks danced a tarantella and God tossed confetti on the lot of them. My Truth, writ in fake Gothic font on signboard and hung in all its pixellated glory, on the walls of a set for a TV show.
Life before hope. Life, when hope was a dirty little secret, an impotent exercise in futility and failure. Pandora would have been better served had she shut the box lid on Hope’s tiny gossamer fairy wings when she had the chance.
And, okay, maybe not life without hope. More life with a hope that was misplaced and passive. I hoped for all the wrong things – that you would save me, that God would heal me, that life would magically work in my favor. That I would be happy. It’s not that these were bad hopes. It’s how I went about hoping.
What I did was exactly nothing. I did not ask, nor pray, nor act, nor choose. I sent my hope out into the universe (my tiny universe of one, that shut out light and air and the voice of God), whispered and weightless, and I waited. I waited to be struck whole. I waited to be made happy. I waited to be saved from myself. With every whispered prayer for hope I released, I got sadder and angrier and more self-righteously justified in my pain and loneliness.
What I didn’t understand — what took me halfway to forever to learn — was that hope is an action. I am responsible and obligated to participate in my redemption. You will never save me. You can offer me strength and shine a light on my path – you can even lend me some hope. But you will not save me. You will not make me happy. You don’t have that power (of course, it also means you cannot make me sad, or angry). Those are all inside jobs.
God will not strike me whole, heal my brokenness, relieve me of my despair. I won’t even get into the circular and didactic argument of “Well, God could if S/He wanted…” That’s not the point, not in my belief set. I can dance in the palm of God’s hand, and find respite and release (and I have). My faith and my prayers change me, give me grace to walk forward in my life, face whatever is in front of me – the good stuff and the bad.
Pray to God, but row towards shore. Hope is an action. I have to hope with my feet. If I merely watch from the sidelines of my life, waiting for hope to kick in, life will be an eternally dark ride. Hope, as an action, as a prayer, lifts me and fills me and allows me not just to leap, but to soar.