I have always been pro-hope. I tend to gravitate toward overtly hopeful people, those who, in their 60′s, enter the dating scene, trying to re-find true love; or those who start their own businesses; or those who stare down cancer with an unblinking eye.
Obama nabbed me with his Hope posters. My faith and belief in God are tightly tied to hope. I love the Olympics.
Yes, hope has always seemed like a good and beautiful thing, something to name a baby or a soap opera star.
Something that looks like this:
But I’ve realized lately, that hope can also be scary as, I don’t know . . . a party hosted by Anne Coulter and Sarah Palin? An earwig crawling into my ear and using its pinchers to prune important segments from my brain? Realizing the parachute is not going to open?
To clarify: Hope (the noun) is not scary. It’s the verb (to hope) that’s as scary as the Coulter-Palin Party/Earwig/Broken parachute thing. It is scary to hope.
I know this because a week ago, my fabulous agent (who is the perfect balance of arse-kicker and mother-figure and literary Buddha) started sending around my manuscript (AKA my book) to editors, with the hope that one of them will love it enough to convince her colleagues to purchase and publish it. As a result, I’ve been flapping and flopping around in a pool of my own hope. It feels equal parts terrifying and heart attacking.
My agent tells me that editors move slower in the summer. She tells me that all of publishing shuts down during the week of July 4th. She tells me it could be weeks before we hear anything. In spite of all this, I am still checking my email like a crazy person (which, in fact, I am). The refresh button on my email is now called my hope button.
And it’s this fervent hoping that I find surprisingly scary.
Sure, I must have had some form of hope (the noun) when I was writing the book. But that wasn’t scary because I didn’t have much choice in the matter; it was a book that needed me to write it so I wrote it. Also, it wasn’t scary to hope that I could write a book because accomplishing that goal was dependent only on me and my follow through.
Now though, I have to hope that some important editor likes it enough to convince her publisher to purchase it. My hope is dependent on other people. Smart professional people who love books and only want to publish the best ones, the ones that will sell. Will mine fit that category?
Yes, it’s scary to place my hope in the hands of another. But in writing this, I realize it’s even scarier to NOT put myself in situations where hope is required.
Back in March, the Mega Millions jackpot grew to $640 million. Imagine that. $640 million.
Apparently, in spite of very long odds, a lot of people imagined $640 million. According to this CBS News article, ticket sales were unprecedented. A cafe employee in Arizona sold $2600 worth of tickets to one person. Other Americans doubled and tripled their typical weekly lottery ticket spending, creating “unprecedented” ticket sales.
That’s hope, right? Hope + Mathematics; the more tickets I purchase, the better my chances of winning.
But in the same article, Mike Catalano, chairman of the mathematics department at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, S.D., provides “a good dose of reality.” He states the following:
“You are about 50 times as likely to get struck by lightning as to win the lottery, based on the 90 people a year getting struck by lightning,” Catalano said. “Of course, if you buy 50 tickets, you’ve equalized your chances of winning the jackpot with getting struck by lightning.”
Based on other U.S. averages, you’re about 8,000 times more likely to be murdered than to win the lottery, and about 20,000 times more likely to die in a car crash than hit the lucky numbers, Catalano said.
Some might say that the likelihood of getting a book published is a lot like the likelihood of winning the lottery. Maybe that’s true. Only I don’t play the lottery. I find it a little silly and a little depressing . . . to be so hopeful about something with such long odds?
The article shares the example of David Kramer, a lawyer in Lincoln, Nebraska. He says,
buying his Mega Millions ticket wasn’t about “the realistic opportunity to win . . . It’s the fact that for three days, the daydreaming time about what I would do if I won is great entertainment and, frankly, a very nice release from a normal day,” he said.
Ah yes. There’s the hope. The flower on a wire fence kind of hope . . . I suppose. But is it the same kind of hope as Obama hope? As the hope of a teacher who believes in her students? As the hope of someone praying to a God who–let’s face it–may or may not be there? As the hope of someone who spends nearly a decade writing a book that may never get published?
Lottery hope seems different, a little sadder, maybe because I believe the act of hoping must be paired with a bit of work if it’s to be powerful. If hope is paired with hard work, hope can only be admirable, not pitiful.
In this TED talk about the power of hope, surgeon Sherwin Nuland, notes that when he looked up the word “hope” in the OED, he found that the root of “hope” is the Indo-European word, “curve.” Therefore, he says, hope can be understood as “a change in direction, going in a different way.” He found that a great way to understand such an abstract concept.
[Furthermore,] Hope [he explains] does not consist of the expectation that things will come out exactly right, but the expectation that they will make sense, regardless of how they come out.
So is buying $2600 in lottery tickets an example of that kind of hope? Sure, it’s an attempt to “curve” one’s life in a different direction. But I think hope is more than that.
Dr. Nuland goes on to say (and I’ll paraphrase here) that hope gives us the knowledge that the world can be saved by the human spirit, that we can all rise out of our ordinary selves and achieve something that initially, we didn’t know we were capable of achieving.
Yes. That’s it. Hope as action. Hope as a change agent. Hope as a catalyst.
Just think about it: the world’s greatest humanitarians, leaders, teachers and artists have dared to hope. They have taken their hope (the noun) and made it an active verb as they go public with their hope. Is there risk? Yes. Did Martin Luther King, Jr. ever have stomachaches? Probably. Did Abe “the hunk” Lincoln ever worry that he was pushing the country in a foolish direction? Most likely. How about my friend who is on round four of cancer (and she’s my age). Man, that girl is filled with hope!
Getting a book published? Big whoop. Small potatoes in the scheme of things. So OK, I have a wee stomachache. So I’m having trouble sleeping. So I had to call Husbandio, worried that I was experiencing a heart attack. (I wasn’t. My shoes were too tight AND MY BOOK IS BEING READ BY EDITORS!)
I may win the lottery and get my book published. I may not.
But I think I will.
I hope I will.
If our country’s most famous hopers, Abe and MLK, Jr and Obama (shoot, why are they all MEN?) can accept the inherent scariness of fervent hope, so can I.
After all, the scary heart attack feeling is certainly better than attending a scary Palin-Coulter party.
While you are pondering the image of Sarah Palin dancing the Macarena and passing hors d’ oeuvres, please share with me your opinions and experiences with hope, with lotteries, with earwigs. When have you been most driven by hope? How did you deal with the scariness and the risk of getting egg on your face? What’s your “hope button”?
I’d really love to hear your thoughts. Just, please, don’t send me a photo of an earwig. It’s been a bad week for earwigs.
Hopeful post-it photo courtesy of Flickr’s Natasja db.
Hopeful flower photo courtesy of Flickr’s Fountain_Head.
Hopeful paper crane photo courtesy of Flickr’s Photography-andreas.