Thursday, December 20, 2018


            I confess that I’m a Word Person. I am interested in how language works. Some of you, when reading these opening sentences, will decide that it’s time to turn off your computer and match up socks in your sock drawer, or maybe take a good long look out a window.

            I am especially interested in the word “hope.” What’s the difference between “hope” and “wish”? As I use the words, “hope” suggests the expectation that the future you imagine might, in fact, become a reality, where a “wish” is more akin to a Hail Mary pass without Mary’s actually being available to help. “Hope,” carrying the expectation, actually is in a way self-fulfilling. The act of hoping for something actually helps make it happen, while a wish is more passive. That’s why the sarcastic response to an imagined future, “You wish,” suggests the unlikelihood that it will come to pass. I think there is a similar distinction between “faith” and “belief,” where faith is a trusting attitude and belief an accepted view or doctrine.

            Self-fulfilling? Shortly after my years-ago divorce I went to see a counselor. I told him that I am one of the most optimistic people I know. “But then,” I added, “maybe I’m optimistic because things always seem to work out for me.” The counselor paused a moment before noting, “I think you have it backwards. Maybe things work out for you because you are optimistic.”

            I’m not sure how hope works. I’ve never believed that an attitude such as hopefulness can generate some kind of energy that pumps into the universe to alter the physics of what happens - though who really knows? When a basketball player crosses himself or herself before shooting a free throw, is the expectation that Jesus will nudge the ball into the basket if it’s balanced on the rim? Doubtful. More likely, the player is appealing to his or her best self, which is the self that is calm and centered enough to make a free throw. And perhaps this is how hope works. A hopeful self makes things happen.

            These meanings, of course, are not built into the words “wish” and “hope.” They are meanings I give the words, and you can do it your own way.

            I realize as I write this that this essay is not about language at all – it’s about my life with Kim. We built this house despite Kim’s cancer. We discuss what we might do with next year’s Christmas cards, and what we might do with next year’s tree. We are planning the landscaping we will do or have done in the spring, including trees that will take years to give us the look we want. This is hope, and it keeps us going. At the same time, as we sit on our porch looking east at the sunset and finishing our dinner wine, Kim says that if she has to sleep in a hospital bed again, she wants it right here, where she can see the lake, the birds and the woods. We talk about the inevitable endgame, but in a hopeful way.

            And I, of course, continue to be immortal – at least, I hope I am.


  1. That is a beautiful piece. It brouht tears to my eyes, and no desire to look out the window or match socks! You are both in a beautiful place, physically and emotionally. This world of ours needs more hope right now.

  2. Much agree. And I am put in mind of an Emily Dickinson poem, one of so many I love:

    “Hope” is the thing with feathers -
    That perches in the soul -
    And sings the tune without the words -
    And never stops - at all -

    And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
    And sore must be the storm -
    That could abash the little Bird
    That kept so many warm -

    I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
    And on the strangest Sea -
    Yet - never - in Extremity,
    It asked a crumb - of me.