The other day while running, I was listening to a running podcast called Human Race. This particular episode was an old one I hadn't heard before, about elite middle-distance runner Brandon Hudgins and his battle with vasculitis; an incurable disease that inflames and destroys the blood vessels. He went from one of the fastest 1500 meter runners in the country, to barely being able to get out of bed. When he is able to run during a flare up, he is so slow his 70 year old neighbor passes him on the street. Sometimes the disease subsides, and he somehow manages to climb his way back to the top. But after every comeback he seems to have another setback. Every forward step he takes seems to be followed by two steps back. Now, I've heard lots of inspiring stories on this podcast as well as others I listen to. Usually the stories belong to someone with an upbeat demeanor and a seemingly endless positive attitude, so I have a hard time relating to them. I've always rolled my eyes at words and phrases like, "faith," "good vibes," "positive energy," "prayers," and "hope." Ugh. Hope. I hate hope. I've always hated hope. I hated it all those times I hoped to get a puppy and didn't. I hated when I hoped a cute boy would talk to me and was ignored. I hated the movie, Hope Floats starring Sandra Bullock and her terrible southern accent. I hated Obama's HOPE slogan. Hey, Barrack? I love you and all, but can we do better than just "hope?" Like, can we actually do stuff to prevent the angry men with faces like rumpled old gym socks from playing Battleship with [INSERT DICTATOR HERE] instead of just hoping they don't the second you leave? Because expecting and desiring a change in and of itself does not actually make that thing happen, and that is actually the definition of hope. It is an intangible feeling tangled up with tangible expectations. Hope is trying to feel something into existence, and as everyone who as ever lost someone and wished them back knows firsthand, you cannot feel something into existence.
This is why I liked this Hudgins story so much. During the interview, Hudgins' tattoos came up, and the interviewer focused on one in particular. It's across his chest, in a cursive script between two red roses that reads, "ALL HOPE IS GONE." Most people would find that pretty depressing, especially for a guy with an incurable, debilitating disease, but Hudgins sees it quite the opposite, and I agree. To quote him from his own blog post about this very topic, he says, "I think that hope can be misplaced and often causes people to fall harder when that wish or yearning isn't fulfilled. It wasn't until I realized that all the hoping and yearning in the world wasn't going to change my outcome, so why not find a more useful place for that energy."When I heard him say that on the podcast, I thought of my grandfather and a conversation we had over dinner a couple months before Alex died. The topic of Alex's current state came up, of course, and my grandfather said something along the lines of, "that boy is completely hopeless." I defended my brother like I always did, and insisted that not all hope was lost. But maybe my grandfather was right. And maybe Alex knew it, too. Maybe he was without hope, without expectations for himself, without the ability to even desire a change. By the definition of the word, he was indeed hopeless. But he didn't need hope, anyway. He needed rehabilitation. He needed counseling. He needed medication. He needed a roof over his head. He needed money. He needed a better group of friends, a better family. Ultimately, maybe what he really needed was an escape.
I hate hope the most for letting me down all those years I hoped my brother would get better, when even he knew better than to hope that for himself.
(TM t-shirt coming soon.)