My brother's keeper of hope

April 21, 2007 by barbara

by perhansa

Earlier this week Susan asked what gives us hope. My quick response included great quotes and attempts at dazzling philosophical insights. Afterward, I felt I should have paused and considered the question. The Buddhists say that all beings are our teachers if we will but listen. In a way, Susan was my teacher for a day. I sat in the sunshine eating a pimiento cheese sandwich and tried to meditate on Susan's question. I remembered this from one or another wisdom tradition: "Those who know don't speak, and those who speak don't know." And this phrase kept coming to mind: The luxury of hope. Read on.

Who does not have hope? For starters, a mother watching her infant child die in her arms of malnutrition. A soldier lying in the dirt, watching his lifeblood spill out from his eviscerated midriff. A dissident prisoner of a repressive government, locked away in a gulag.

I, on the other hand, do have the luxury of hope. My life isn't an endless struggle for subsistence. I'm not working multiple jobs at minimum wage to pay rent and buy groceries. I don't have to sell myself on the streets in India or Bangladesh for food and a place to sleep. So do I have the right to let go of hope when it's within my grasp; when it's a luxury that life and luck has afforded me? Am I my brother's or sister's keeper of hope? Do I not owe those without hope that much?

I do. I owe it to them to shovel coal into the furnace of hope and keep it burning. I owe it to them not to judge if they let go of hope and give way. I owe it not to brag or be smug in my hope'"it's a luxury, not a right. This is neither an ANSWER nor a sermon. It's just the thought that keeps cycling in my mind when I ponder what it is that gives us hope. To whom much is given, much will be expected, whether by gods or by each other. It's the rule of this particular jungle.

Descartes was wrong when he boasted, "Cogito, ergo sum." He should have said, "I shit, therefore I am." (Sorry I can't translate that into Latin). I'm a little biological wonder. I eat, poop, have sex, and sit with my wrinkled face to the sun with my love at my side; therefore, I am. I have the luxury of hope and the blessedness of being. That's as close as I can get to god; as close as I'll ever get to heaven.

Is there purpose? Is there meaning? Is there good that can come out of suffering? How the h*ll should I know? I only know that there is hope. And today, that's enough. Tomorrow my world could fall apart. Someone I love may fall victim to disease, violence or madness. My possessions could be lost in a heartbeat. And it may be more than I can handle. I may want to cut my wrists or suck carbon monoxide to put an end to my suffering and grief. I don't know.

I won't judge those who lose hope and cash it in. I'm not in their skin. What I will do is continue to embrace the luxury of hope and marvel at its delicacy. I will do my part to keep hope safe for those whose hearts are broken and whose suffering I dare not imagine.

First of all I should make an effort
to meditate on the equality
between myself and others:
I should protect all beings as I do myself
because we are all equal in wanting
pleasure and not wanting pain'
When both myself and others
are similar in that we wish to be happy
what is so special about me?
Why do I strive for my happiness alone?

~ Shantideva

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susan | April 25, 2007 - 1:57am

Perhansa, a belated thank you for this. The luxury of hope is a wonderful way to put it. I should have responded sooner. I was dragging my ass today, really in the cellar, and realized that there's depression, yes, as in mental illness, but there's also a sort of spiritual laziness in giving in to despair. I think maybe hope requires action and on some days I'm not willing to expend the energy. So, while kvetching about that to my sister tonight, she redirected me to your post, and said that you were on to something -- that those of us with the physical basis for hope have a duty to hold on to it for those who don't. So, tomorrow I'm gonna kick my lazy ass into gear and reclaim some hope. Seriously, I appreciate the thought you put into your writing.


Anonymous (not verified) | April 25, 2007 - 6:48am

Or at least fake it, which, I know, is so not Buddhist.

I think this is the time of year when the Catholic priests wear green vestments (yes, I'm the one who dragged Susan to Catholic school) symbolising hope, I think. ( White was for joy, purple for suffering, red for passion, maybe?, which of course meant more suffering, black for grief, as in funerals)
Anyhow, every year when those little green leaves come out, despite our increasingly poisoned atmosphere, and the song birds show up, singing nesting songs, despite Rachel Carson's "The Silent Spring", well, it feels good, doesn't it? So why not call that feeling "hope" and be done with it?
Keep up the good writing, all of you; it gives me hope.


susan | April 25, 2007 - 9:30am

Aw, sister, thanks. You know who taught us that little lesson of hope, don't you? It wasn't the nuns you condemned me to. It was our mother, don't you think? She always noticed and appreciated those very things -- shoots of green, the evening star, delicate snow on a dark branch, and even in her final years she made this work for her. And it was genuine, not twee or fake, I don't think. It was extremely appealing. But it takes a sort of bravery, perhaps, or inner calm, which may be the Buddhist part after all. Where'd she get that? Do you think she was faking it at times, that stiff upper lip sort of thing? I don't have it. Well, then there was our father, whose outlook was a bit more gloomy, I think. What was his line, the dreaded duty to be cheerful or something like that?