Hope, deceitful as it is, serves at least to lead us to the end of our lives by an agreeable route. ~François Duc de La Rochefoucauld

Whenever someone makes some annoyingly cheerful comment about hope and its longevity, I feel compelled to point out that hope can also cripple. My favorite reference is The Homeward Bounders, by Diana Wynne Jones. In this sci-fi/fantasy novel, the main characters are imprisoned by their own hope; only despair can set them free. (There – I ruined it for you.) And since humans hope and breath and live and hope, the homeward bounders are trapped forever. (Well, not forever; that’s what the story is about.)

The truth is, losing hope has its positive points. When you lose hope for a lost cause, you are free to stop investing in it and pursue not-so-lost causes. Losing hope can be an important turning point in life.

The problem is recognizing when something is a lost cause. This is what I was thinking while contemplating the possibility of another first date. I was feeling hopeful already; who knows? It might be him. He was described in a very promising way… as were all the other perfect matches I’ve been out with. But hey, who knows, maybe this time…?

I don’t want to be hopeful. It hurts to have your hopes dashed on the floor and trammeled underfoot. And then rewind and replay. And replay again. And one more time. Crash – smash – stomp – crunch. That is the soundtrack of my dating career. Hoping about a date is like putting your hand on the stove and turning on the gas. Maybe the pilot went out, but get real. You are just asking to be burned. I mean, what are the chances?

But if you don’t hope, then you’re giving up. You’re saying “I’m a hopeless cause. Never gonna get married. Time to order my Spinster Forever t-shirt.” And I’m not quite ready for that yet either.

There’s a magnet on our fridge that Mindy gave me as a graduation present. It’s the famous quote from the Queen of Hearts to Alice, in Wonderland:

Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’

‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’

I’ve never really understood this little exchange. I figured it was one of those things that sound more profound than they actually are. But as I was standing and pondering it last week (pondering the outside of the fridge instead of the inside, for once), I finally got it.

Sometimes you need to believe impossible things. Because if you didn’t, you couldn’t keep doing things that have a lottery-esque chance of happening. Like finding a spouse.

Hitting a dead end here or there on your path to accomplishing the impossible is disappointing, but not crushing, when you believe that the impossible is bound to happen sooner or later.

It’s like that old Windows screensaver trying to bash its way through a maze by sheer persistence. You can hope that each turn is going to be the right one, but you’re not crushed when it’s not, because you know it’ll get there eventually.

And maybe it’ll even be this time!

Crash – smash – stomp – crunch.

Okay, maybe not this time, but it will happen. Eventually. I believe it.

Now let’s open that fridge and get some breakfast.

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22 thoughts on “Hope, deceitful as it is, serves at least to lead us to the end of our lives by an agreeable route. ~François Duc de La Rochefoucauld

  1. Heh – I liked this.

    I always understood the Queen’s line (and the idea of hope over despair in general) to having a more carefree attitude toward life: Dare to dream, but don’t pin things on those dreams. If it happens, great, if not, you’re no worse off than you were before.

  2. The one thing that i could pin down on my dating experiences is that you could do all the right things, say all the right things, be the right person, at the right time, and it still doesn’t work out. just comes to show that you have no control over the situation and that its all up to hashem. not sure if it equals out, but i definitely grew in my emunah from my dating.

  3. 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 chilliest land
    And on the strangest sea;
    Yet, never, in extremity,
    It asked a crumb of me.
    -Emily Dickinson

  4. The day hope and I parted ways was in fifth grade, when I was sooooo sure I was going to ace my math test and I got a REALLY low grade.

    In general, what I do is keep my expectations level. After numerous calls of people mentioning a guy only to have nothing materialize, I’ve kept a blase demeanor. Something chained in the attic of my heart rattles a bit, but I don’t let it get loose.

    “Hmmmm? Someone called? That’s nice.”

  5. And why do you refer to getting married as “the impossible”? The Eibishter has the world set up for all to marry. Just because it’s a pain in the neck doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

  6. Unfortunately the cruelty of hope is something just about everyone experiences in dating. I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot lately, b/c there’s a breakup song I’ve had on repeat for a while now with the lyrics “It took the death of hope to let you go”. The song is called “Snuff” and it’s from a cd called “All hope is gone”, very depressing but relatable. What I try to do is keep hope in the bigger picture but not in each individual date. When it comes to individual dates, I try to only think about having fun and if something more comes out of that, great. It may be easier for a guy to do that than a girl, but I think it can be done, go ahead and order that beer on a date (once in a while).

  7. Attention singles:

    Believe in The Secret! There is a follow-up article on Aish.com which explains The Secret Documentary from a Jewish Perspective.

    B’korov to all!

  8. Life really is too short to waste on keeping hope up. Slap on a smile, enjoy what you have and live.

    “Good things take time, but great things happen all at once.”– Rat Race

    Good things in life take time, hishtadlus and more histadlus, but great things…those are in Hashem’s hands, and as we know, He can change it all in an instant.

  9. I still don’t see why hope is a bad thing, as we say the entire month of Tishrei – “Kavei el HaShem, chazak v’ya’ameitz libecha, v’kavei el HaShem.” You’re always supposed to keep hoping, even if things don’t work out the first (few) time(s).

    The damaging part is to put too much energy into expecting guaranteed results as RedTred wrote. This is the difference in the Gemara in Brachos (I forget the daf, maybe 4th-5th perek) that talks about how being me’ayain into tefillah can be both helpful and harmful. Helpful means that you put a lot of effort into understanding what you’re saying and the meaning of what tefillah is, while davening expecting all your requests to be answered will simply harm your heart, since no request is ever a sure thing. HaShem can always say no, which is the reply that is best for us, even if we don’t like/understand it)

    Where would we be without hope? Being misya’eish – giving into despair (yei’ush) is the worst possible thing, from a psychological standpoint. People who are suffering from terrible diseases (such as cancer, lo aleinu) are proven to recover better and faster if they have a positive, hopeful mindset. The minute that yei’ush sets it (often due to the impression that the doctors have given up on the patient) the final, irreversible decline will begin.

    We all have our ups and downs, but that’s normal. So, don’t give up hope! But don’t overtax your mind/neshama too much either. As I once heard from the Tolner Rebbe (I think) in song form:

    Lo Mevi’in Klum – I don’t understand anything
    Lo Mevi’in Klum – I don’t understand anything
    Rak Ma’amin – I just believe
    Rak Ma’amin – I just believe
    Hakol L’Tova – Everything is for the good

  10. The hope aspect comes from literally not being able to do anything about it.

    Every other goal in life (I think) you can put in your effort and then stand back and say you did your best. With shidduchim, though, there is no telling how much hishtadlus is enough. A girl can marry her first guy without any hishtadlus at all, or it may take many many phone calls and research and dates to get married. So the effort does not affect the outcome, which leaves HOPE the only thing one can do. Hope in this case, I’m assuming, means tefillah.

  11. You’re 100% correct Shades of Grey. There’s a big difference between hoping what we want to happen will happen, and hoping (and believing) that the ultimate good will come about. Thanks for the insight.

  12. Funny you mentioned that-I just watched the new Alice in Wonderland movie. I know what you mean though-every time something comes up (aka shidduch) I get a little too hopeful and let my imagination burst with ideas and every time, nothing comes from it and I just get annoyed at myself for thinking about it so much…

  13. I like reading the idea of hope into this passage, but I’m not sure how much Carroll meant this as hashkafic view, or if he intended it as a play on the rules of formal logic. In logic, any assumption can be disproven that engenders a contradiction. This is Alice’s straightforward opinion. But there is another rule, sometimes known as the principle of explosion, that says that anything follows from a contradiction. So, as long as you’re willing to take a contradiction as an assumption, you can conclude anything you choose. This is a funny idea, as illustrated here: http://xkcd.com/704/. This is why the queen of hearts can just as easily claim to have thought six impossibilities as she could to have claimed only one.

  14. Its our own ego that makes us believe we’re in control, and therefore, hoping is just an extension of that control. Instead of “losing hope” we should let go of control, let God do his job, and then hope will not have a part to play (for good OR bad).

  15. In the Pandora myth (as O referenced), hope was in the box with the evils of the world, and Pandora managed to slam the box shut on it. I never understood that. Is it supposed to be that hope is an evil? An evil that we can control? Or is it that hey – look in here – it’s something we can use AGAINST the demons of life? By slamming the box shut do we minimize its potential (it’s confined) or do we maximize our ability to use it (it’s not running away)? Anyway, the story’s attitude towards hope is ambiguous, and that seems to be appropriate in this world.

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