“Totally without hope, one cannot live. To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante's hell is the inscription: "Leave behind all hope, you who enter here.” - Jürgen Moltmann, “Theology of Hope”.
At age 91, Jürgen Moltman is one of the worlds leading Protestant theologians. His investigation into the concept of “hope” arose out of being a German prisoner of war soldier in 1944. What he noticed in a Belgium POW camp, was that prisoners who collapsed inwardly and became sick and even died, were the ones who had given up hope.
There are few greater and more powerful things that drive one to seek psychotherapy, than hope. Hope is the flickering moment where some part of you says to the whole "I want different for my life." You are acutely aware of not feeling the same way you once did, that something has been lost and you need to reshape your life experience so that you can move forward.
Hope is an affectively powerful experience that enlivens us, counteracting the bland sedentariness of acceptance that this is just the way things are in the world. This type of hopelessness is what we subject ourselves to on a daily basis if we have forgotten how to nourish the present and seek new possibilities in the future. We have hope that things can be as they once were, what Bruce Springsteen calls, “Glory Days”. We want the exact experience of the past played out in the present but with a new spin on it. The mere presence of hope conveys that there is an experienced hardship, some part of ourselves that wants to change. It is a very courageous thing to undertake the journey of changing oneself. The change is in the journey. And hope is always the catalyst.
Gabriel Marcel a playwright, literary critic, concert pianist and Christian existentialist said that "hope is a memory of the future." So hope and memory are intimate neighbors. Like row homes in Baltimore, San Francisco, Chicago, or Amsterdam. We strive for something that we once had. Some would say that we are endeavoring to return to the womb-like safety where all of our needs are met, we are known, and are not troubled with having to make decisions. Yet, this is very sentimental, like a love of a place to which we can no longer return. This sentimentality of wanting the return to innocence only moves us further and further into the past. Author, vlogger, philosopher and documentary maker - Alain de Botton, describes sentimentality" as a symptom of insufficient engagement with complexity, by which one really means problems." We're thrust into the world unprepared, and henceforth anxious.
We want to avoid really looking at our problems in the present. We become obsessed with the idyllic, the idea of the “perfect life” either housed in the past or what is somehow going to magically transpire in the future.
This engagement is reflected most dramatically in art. The most common category of art is the pretty and pleasing type: beautiful meadows, waterfalls, children playing, or couples in love. We love these images because we love what they represent to us, what they remind us of. A message they convey is that we should merely look away from our troubles and walk along a beach with a beautiful girl, or spend more time in nature. One only needs to look at the work of Thomas Kinkade, the “painter of the light” for an example of art as nostalgia. It is estimated that 1 in 20 Americans have a Kinkade in their homes.
"It's not the world we live in, it's the world we wished we live in. People wish they could find that stream, that cabin in the woods." Thomas Kinkade
Hope Springs Eternal
We all get sentimental, even myself, we look to something to remind us of what once was and experience a little of it in the now. For myself, probably 1/3 of the folks I follow on Instagram are professional photographers living in Scotland, which for me points to a time of change, unconditional acceptance, and fellowship.
We must cultivate a vibrant relationship with hope - not as a vehicle to idolize an “innocent” past or fantasize about a golden future but as the conduit for changing challenging circumstances in your present. If your life feels devoid of all hope, please find your way to someone you can talk to as despair might follow. You might need to give your imagination a jumpstart to cultivate a sense of possibility.
In the words of Jürgen Moltmann, "Hope implies an influential role for remembrance. For it is only with a powerful memory of what once was that we might be called to imagine a different future than the one we seem to be living-ourselves-into."