Some time ago, I got a e-mail message from the wife of a man I was once close to. As often happens to men, we both got too busy to tend to the friendship.
She was writing to tell me that he had committed suicide and left what he said was a note for his friends. It was simple: "I lost hope."
A writer, his books no longer sold. This is quite common since the rise of e-books and the Great Recession.
I knew that he felt worthless in his work and, I think he had been persuaded by the Corporate Masters who run our country that he no longer had the resources to maintain the security and lifestyle he had been told was necessary.
This man was gifted and much-loved, I considered him a far better writer than I was or am.
I understood his despair.
At the time, I was in financial trouble and was feeling that my work was worthless and my many years of writing were without any good result, I had no gone as far as I had intended to go. I lived in despair but it never occurred to me to take my own life, and I wondered for some time why he did and I didn't.
I think I am finally beginning to understand why that never occurred to me.
The philosopher Henri M. Nouwen wrote in his meditations that whereas patience is the mother of expectations, it is expectation itself that brings joy to our lives. It almost goes without saying that it is hope that brings joy, and joy that brings hope, without the one, I cannot imagine feeling the other.
In a sense, hope is the stepchild of imagination, I have always imagined a better future even when the present was crumbling all around me. I have a rich imagination, and my hope has often turned out to be justified.
Nouwen, a Christian scholar, quotes Jesus as saying to despairing followers, "You are sad now, but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy."
While I always had my fair share of problems, I never lost hope, and had the greatest expectations of learning from my life, understanding my mistakes and shortcomings, and experiencing joy in the future. This hope always sustained me.
How, I wonder, can a man or woman without hope in the future live creatively or contentedly in the present?
I knew almost from the time I can remember that hope was something deep inside of my and my soul. What began as a survival tool evolved into a kind of faith.
They could take almost everything I had away from me, but they could not take hope away, only I could do that.
Hope is the great balm, the most powerful anti-depressant, the most enduring peace of mind, it is the light that fills even the greatest darkness. It is unique to the human soul, no other creature, large or small, has it or knows what it is.
For the past few years, I have struggle with the new realities of the writer's life, as so many Americans have struggled with the changing nature of work.
I have at times felt worthless, the corporate system can spawn that, I wondered what my life and work might add up to.
As with politics, I resolved to change rather than drown in self-pity or despair or anger, or worse yet, lose any hope for my life. My blog gave me hope, and that has sustained and uplifted me. I hoped it would work. It did.
I always hoped I would find love, and I have, and it has brought me great joy. Hope is the fuel that moves me forward.
What reason did I have to hope for such a thing? Where does hope come from? In my case, from fantasy and dreams. I can't say, hope is internal, it lives somewhere between the heart and soul, it can be felt but never seen.
Whatever happens to me, I have the greatest hopes for my life, at any point, any age.
The paradox of expectation is that those who believe in tomorrow can live much better today, and those who expect joy to come out of sadness can discover the beginnings of a new life in the center of the old, in the midst of darkness.
I wish I could have spoken with my friend before he took his own life.
I would have told him not to depend on the hope of results. At some point in all of our lives, we awaken and grasp that money does not bring happiness, nor can it purchase security and peace of mind. Living for other people's idea of success and glory is a disaster, almost every time.
I have to face the fact that my work may, in fact, be worthless in one sense – who am I so say?, and has sometimes been the opposite of what I expected.
As I got more and more used to this possibility – I can't know if it is true or not – I began concentrating less on the results and more on the value, the truth of the work, it's meaning, my integrity and accomplishments.
Gradually, perhaps day by day, I have struggled less and less for a single goal and more and more on the promise of my life, of the new joy that would bring me happiness and meaning, empathy and compassion.
I never once lost hope, and that made all the difference.
It is hope that turns sadness into joy and finds new life in the old.