“Hope for the best, expect the worst,
The world’s a stage, we’re unrehearsed,
Some reach the top, friends,
While others drop, friends,
Hope for the best, expect the worst.”
~ Mel Brooks, Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst.
Your name has been mentioned. Someone authoritative wants a word with you. There is a note under your door from the landlord. Your auto mechanic is calling your voicemail. Your favorite team has clawed its way into the playoffs. Is this good? When the unknown poses a challenge, assumptions are cloaked in trepidation. If our forebodings are thwarted by something pleasant, the response is at once surprise and relief. Why is this? Those of us habitually affirming goodness and optimism must ask ourselves whether we really do expect good tidings. Or might it be instead a wary hoping for good, without readiness for fulfillment? Jaded aspirations combine with self-steeling for fruitions of fears. In the next few weeks, I want to explore the significance of looking forward. These times are rife with roadblocks, and they manifest economically, culturally, politically, and through ever-narrowing opportunities. Over and again, in my journals, my words have recently included the idea of awaiting. What is to be expected, and for what do I await? What is fair and sensible to anticipate (and for that matter, what is insensible and recklessly hopeful)? As Thomas Merton experienced his own spiritual surrender, noticing his will running up against the tides of providence, he identified with the biblical Jonah: “I find myself traveling toward my destiny in the belly of a paradox.”Indeed, irony abounds in an amnesic society that also hankers for “good old days,” whose distance away from now seems to float on a sliding time-line. Surely there must be good new days. It cannot all be past, and so I continue working and anticipating.
When something is amiss, our self-preserving instincts drive toward casting blame. Emanating from deep within our foundations comes that conditional sense of justification which is tied to attributing faults to another. Any historian or self-aware individual can attest to this, as well as to the connection between duress and blame. It is visible among world conflicts, and known in our own, darkest, personal moments. And thus, still further, hopefulness is tested through the search for tangible signs of new promise as well as for solace. Anxiousness can consume carefully cultivated embers that keep our spirits lit. Our best navigational skills must be applied to prevent from focusing upon shoals of ills we find. In such times, it may be better to constructively act than to detrimentally over-think. Oh, but we surely can identify the many wrongs in our midst with great ease! And like dominos, identified shortcomings are chased by wagon-trains of all that should be happening, and what we wish we could see. I wonder at what I actually could do, and where to begin. In this struggle, anxiety and desire coexist. Ideals needn’t diminish, but wishes require context. It means implementing a relentless degree of patience- taking stock of the immediate positive that is, while resisting any fixating upon what isn’t. There must be plenty of margin for the not yet.
Within the essence of embarkation into the unknown is an inability to see the other side of the voyage. Often, it seems the engines are cutting out and there is no land in sight. Or, something more like gazing sullenly at a workday over a cold sandwich, tepid coffee, and a ticking wristwatch. And in a futureless holding-pattern mentality, that scenario repeats and repeats. Finding ways to survive- and thrive- comprise detaching from discontent. Do not lose traction in the slough of despond. If anything, convert demeaning situations into motivation. The other day, a comment made in the press by a professional hockey player made a lot of sense to me. He had been asked about being traded and having to play many years in no-frills minor leagues. “It’s not exactly an ego shot,” said the athlete, “but what you want to do is prove them wrong and always try to be resilient.” That tells me plenty about understanding one’s present condition without succumbing to futility. Detaching from discontent also means deflecting all that perpetuates bitterness. Time and energy spent in anxiousness is time and energy that can never be gotten back.
For the past two months, I’ve jotted many scattered notes about looking forward. In the process, I noticed how my strivings to reach forth began to resemble lists of resolutions. But these are not the same things. We may look forward to accomplishments, events, and travels. The resolve gets more into choosing the pursuits and how to make them happen. While trying to imagine what to look forward to, I also found myself making lists of what I do not look forward to. The latter was actually very easy! Inevitably, through these times, it is vital to be able to see the way to confidently looking forward. In so doing, I offer my burdensome uncertainties to The Certain, persevering in my search for signs of hope. Awaiting.