February 14, 2009

The Power of Hope

A few miles from the town where I grew up, there’s a boulder—cup shaped and tilted on its side—near a place that has been turned into a campground. God must have made it for bait fishing because it’s high in the back, sloped to the river and covered with soft moss. It juts off the bank and causes the water to eddy downstream, so silver salmon rest at its foot before moving on. As a kid, I used to cast into the swirl, lie on the rock and wait for a strike. It was as cozy as a favorite chair and I suppose that I caught my share of fish from it.

The rock gets traffic from the campground these days, so I don’t think of it as mine anymore and since I fish differently these days—with a method requiring floating line and a lot of walking—I haven’t been back in a long time. Yet, I still think about the boulder and love it for the way it was.

I learned things while sitting there, things about human nature and me. One summer I pulled two grown men from the river after their canoe tipped. Once safe on the rock, they watched their camping gear float away and the first words either of them could say was: “Hell, there goes my cigarettes.” I laughed until I recognized a sad side to wanting.

Yet, that didn’t stop me from doing the same thing, too: wish for things that seemed to be drifting away. At one time or another, I wanted to be a dozen different things, including a baseball player and a writer. Those dreams seemed within my grasp, until I would step away from the rock and strike out on curve balls or flunk a spelling test. Still, I could go back to the rock and plan and hope. (That’s when I decided to step up in the batter’s box to get a crack at curve balls before they broke away). Though I was never much of an athlete, the planning seemed to raise my batting average a few points.

Since I’ve gotten older, my dreams have changed. I’m not sure if they’re any more mature than my childhood wishes. At times they haunt me, as a good chunk of my life has already passed without accomplishment. But I know this much: when our wishes are right, they make our lives worthwhile. Hope is what whispers that when life is trying, the best we can do is try. Success isn’t what makes life joyful. It’s hoping and dreaming a better world into existence.


Joe Huster said...

Interesting reflections Alan. The drive to do something worthwhile in our lives - to make something of ourselvs, runs deep. It is made possible by the reality of our approaching deaths, to our great blessing.

This idea captured in the garden myth, where God expresses concern that men, who now know good and evil, might "eat of the tree of life and live forever."

Imagine what we might let ourselves if death did not confront us!

Best wishes,

Joe H.

Alan Bahr said...

Thanks, Joe. I often say that time is my second greatest provocation (after the first--physical passions and apetites). I choose the word "provocation" carefully. Time provokes us to greater accomplishment, as you suggest, because it creates an urgency. If what Einstein showed us is correct, the true nature of time isn't obvious to us three-dimensional creatures. That's probably a good thing for the time being.