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The Trouble With Hope

By John Ptacek

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Implicit in hopeful thinking is the mistaken notion that we are separate entities existing outside the flow of an exquisitely connected universe, that we are as in control of our destinies as we are our individual retirement accounts. Hope is our silent prayer that misfortune is meant for one of the other six and a half billion people in the world, but not us.

In small doses, hope is not toxic. It only nips or stings. When our home team loses, when no one asks us to dance, when we tear up lottery tickets, our hopes are dashed and we’re left to survey the space between our expectations and reality. That space grows into an abyss for those attempting to stall reality with hopeful thoughts during times of peril. Thoughts eventually dissolve, while reality stands pat. We blink, and it’s still there. Rays of hope meant to banish our darkest fears in the end only illuminate them, and we crumple into a state of surrender. Anyway, I did.

Surrender was where I stumbled into peace. I didn’t give up on life—I just stopped trying to outwit it. Surrender meant discarding the idea that life is always supposed to be wonderful; it’s just supposed to
be life.

Time spent hoping for happier days is time spent turning away from life in its infinite poses of glory—the elegant curve of my wife’s newly hairless head, the game smile poking through her fatigued expression, the mountain of get well cards rising above a sea of orange pill bottles. Beauty borne from tragedy acquires a sacred dimension that can only be witnessed by a surrendered mind—a mind that isn’t chasing after the next happy face moment.

To picture my wife with hair again, to imagine her digging in the garden or strutting back off to work is to add time where none is needed—to ignore the beauty right under my nose, and to allow futile hope to intrude on an otherwise peaceful day.

John Ptacek is a caregiver for his wife who is living with ovarian cancer. You can read more of his essays on his Web site 


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