“I’m proud of you. You are taking two whole nights away, just for yourself,” I hear Larry say. I re-tuck the microphone of my headset into my facemask to muffle the wind for when I talk.
“Larry, it’s more that they sent me. Is that better? Can you hear me better now?”
It’s nice to have my BFF proud of me, so I don’t belabor the reason I’m biking two miles from my house to the airbnb I’d rented.
I continue: “Preacher man, I need some of your old, wise wisdom. Hope. I’m in need of it. And I’ve got the feeling you know something about it. I need a formula. How do I get some? Hope.”
“Well, that’s an interesting question,” he says, taking his time.
I imagine he is sitting in his Los Angeles front room, in one of the two burgundy Queen Anne chairs with the cream lace doilies where one’s head would rest.
My BFF worked both as a Disciples of Christ minister and a professor of sociology. He knows things.
And I need his help. I’m burnt to a crisp. While I think I can continue at the rate I’m going, I can’t.
Protesting the patriarchy’s response to my city’s call for police and societal reform has added a burden to my schedule. I’ve been weeping with lost innocence that those with munitions declare peaceful protestors to be engaged in unlawful assembly and then attack.
Do they not believe Black Lives Matter?
How do they not?
Who truly believes the sanctity of a building trumps equal justice for all?
My soul collapsed after I failed to convince my father-in-law and others that the reporting about what was happening in my downtown was not what they were being told. I was experiencing it first hand, yet the media was more effective in persuading.
While I don’t fully see the damage done to my soul, others see it clearly.
Regulars at my online services are sending me emails and friends are asking me if I’m ok.
So my family sent me away for two nights to recuperate.
And I’m asking my BFF how to synthesize hope.
“Brian, let me start out quoting lines from a hymn I grew up singing, Whispering Hope.”
Hope with a gentle persuasion
whispers her comforting word
“That is the very first thing you need to know about hope. Hope is subtle, soft, quiet. Hope does not announce itself boldly. It is gentle. It whispers. It helps.”
“Keene, that’s nice” I respond, “But, I don’t need taxonomy about hope. I need a formula.”
He laughs at my loving brazenness.
“Very well, Brian, then let me begin by asking you this, and I realize it might seem a left-field question: Did you freely choose to call me?”
“You, Brian Zachary Mayer, my Jewish rabbi friend, you chose to call me to ask my advice on how to synthesize hope?”
“As much as I understand freedom of will, yes. Yes, Laurence Charles Keene, this was my choice to call you to get some advice—which I assume is coming.”
“It’s coming, Zachary. Bear with me and forgive my next question which might also seem off-topic, but I’m building my case.”
“Bring it, Skippy.”
“Question two: how does it feel when you are around a cynical person?
“Well, mostly, I’m glad to not be them.”
“Because cynical people distrust. They could get a gift horse and complain about it. Kindness is wasted on them. They are miserable. They seem miserable. They seemingly choose—oh, I get a bit of where you are leading me—to be miserable.”
I arrive at my destination on NE Hancock, lock up my bike, and walk between the sunshine and shade, continuing to listen and learn.
“Hope is a choice—and I’ll say more about that in a moment—but first I need you to understand that hope is vital. No one wants to hear the doctor say ‘there is no hope.’ Hope is what keeps us going. Without hope, all is lost.”
“Dante’s depiction of the inscription on the gates of Hell—abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
“Precisely. Those who live without hope live in hell.”
I walk towards 7-Eleven to pick up some supplies for my last-minute travel. I wonder if Dante really believed his imaginative description of hell to be true and why so many people take it as such.
“So, we need hope,” I continue.
“Brian, I would rather live with hope and be disappointed than to live without it and be right.”
“Say that again.”
“I would rather live with hope and be disappointed than to live without it and be right.”
I repeat the words back, stumbling a few times to get them right, needing him to coach me until I get it down—I would rather live with hope and be disappointed than to live without it and be right.
“So, it’s a choice. Really?”
“Absolutely. Paul Tillich talks about this. He says that hope, faith, and love are decisions.”
Larry pauses after exaggerating the word decisions with teacher/preacher cadence, meaning that more is coming.
Paul Tillich is a shared, favorite modern theologian.
“Tillich says a decision is like an incision. In an incision, you cut into, and in a decision, you cut something out. To decide to have hope is to cut out the option of not having hope.”
“So, that’s it, it’s as simple as choosing not to not have hope.”
He laughs a quick laugh of joy—like someone who has just handed their friend a gift that will be loved and says, curtly, “Yes.”
“That’s it? I just have to choose to have hope.”
Then with no humor—like someone telling a friend they need to get sober—he says, “And if you don’t, you have no one to blame but yourself.”
I don’t think I will ever forget standing in the slightly-gentrified neighborhood when I realized that it is up to me. That I need to choose to have hope, because to be cynical, to live without hope, is a choice, too.
I felt my countenance lift.
“Larry, it just happened.”
“You got hope again?”
“Yes. I could head right back home right now, renewed.”
“Better you still take the two nights away.”