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Hope, for no reason

I’m a critical thinker. Whether it is more a result of nature or nurture I do not know. I suspect that it may be primarily nurture, as my parents are educators, and a lot of off-the-clock educating went on in my childhood home. My father focuses on metacognition in his work and has invented thinking structures and strategies used in classrooms all over the world. I’m pretty sure that dinner table conversations were subconsciously built on “thinking scaffolding.”

As a matter of fact, after college when I announced to my parents that I intended to get an apartment with my then-boyfriend, they sat me down for a conversation and presented me with a pen and paper on which to create a table with one column for potential positive effects and another for potential negative effects (non-Lymans may know this as “pros and cons”). As we talked, I was instructed to fill in the table. Some of you know how all this worked out – in a nutshell, it didn’t last – but I will say that the table sprang to mind toward the end as I contemplated how to handle the situation. I am still amazed that my parents could have such a calm and reasoned conversation with me about it and then let me figure it out for myself. Major props to you, Mom and Dad.

I’m also a generally positive and hopeful person. However, I have recently come to understand how tightly I yoke my hope to reason and logic. I hope my daughter will get into a college she loves – although my hopes are trained on the colleges that, according to statistics and information and past acceptances/rejections, are most likely to value what she brings to the table. Sometimes when my husband has an audition, I am hopeful – when he’s well suited to the breakdown (description of the role) and he has what the role demands. For other auditions that seem unlikely to result in a job, I deliberately do not hold out hope, because it helps me avoid the crush of disappointment that will almost certainly result. I am cautiously hopeful that I will avoid a recurrence of cancer, based on the type of cancer I had, my own habits, and the statistics – although I make no assumptions.

Me, Frank, and my parents celebrating my paternal grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary

Then there are the hopes I had about my brother, most of which were based on such solid logic and

favorable statistics that I wasn’t even aware of having them. I hoped that he would live a long and healthy life (which was especially likely for him, since he was so exceptionally careful and safe – well, at least since some sort of switch got flipped sometime in his 20s). I hoped that we would have many years in which to get together and share experiences and have conversations. I hoped that we would throw a stupendous 50th anniversary party for my parents in October of 2014, and I couldn’t see any real obstacles in the way (despite shady dealings on the part of some potential venues who clearly didn’t see our gathering as a big moneymaker). And, knowing a lot about where the action is in the publishing business, I held out a smaller hope that eventually he and his family would live near us again in the northeast.

All of these hopes were dashed against the rocks when Frank was killed. Having seen how hopes can be destroyed despite all kinds of logic and evidence pointing to potential success, I have become wary of hope. I have shown up in the statistically-small “not likely” bracket more times than I ever expected, and I wonder if and when it will happen again. I question hope. I ask: Are my hopes unfounded? And if so, is hope worth the risk?

Yesterday on a run, I was thinking about how I tether my hopes to facts and statistics and logic and well-thought-out potential effects. All of a sudden something occurred to me. What if I had hope for no reason at all? What would happen if I cut the strings that attach my hope to facts and logic? Would it fly away and leave me – or, like a hot air balloon with the drop lines released, would it soar, and take me with it?

I’m going to explore the possibility of hope for no reason. Perhaps that kind of hope has more staying power and is not as vulnerable to the ups and downs of life. I can’t undo a lifetime of hoping habits overnight, but I think the attempt is worth it.

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