The H Word

“The way I figure it, Heaven and Hell are right here on Earth.  Heaven is living in your hopes and Hell is living in your fears.  It’s up to each individual which one he chooses.”  Jelly paused.  “I told that to the Chink once and he said, ‘Every fear is part hope and every hope is part fear — quit dividing things up and taking sides.”

–Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about hope.  First, I read a reflection titled “Fragile Frightful Hope” ( ) in which Randy Greenwald suggests that many of us take shelter in the idea of ourselves as realists in order to avoid the fear inherent in allowing ourselves to hope.  Then, on Tuesday, I attended the annual fundraising banquet for the House of Hope, ( an organization offering hope to many women in this community.

The story of the House of Hope is one that highlights the relationship between fear and hope.  Melody Graham, its founder, was working with a woman who needed help, but the kind and intensity of help necessary just weren’t available via local social services.  The first time I heard Melody describe what happened, she said, “And as I was thinking about what this woman needed, I heard a voice ask, ‘Why don’t you open a house for women?'” Each step of the way to establishing the House of Hope was an exercise in facing self-doubt and fear — I mean, its scary to buy a house with no money.  It’s difficult to convince other people to invest in your inspiration.  Melody faced each of these fears, because her hope was stronger.

Melody has been an inspiration to me (and countless others) for years now.  We are amazed by what she manages to create, along with a strong group of friends and allies she has recruited along the way.  I’ve also listened closely as Melody says, “All I did was keep taking the next step.”  Hope leads us forward, if we have the courage to risk doing so without advance knowledge of the outcomes.  And really, the fear is all about outcomes — about being let down, hurt, broken.  We will never know the outcome when we take that first step. Or the next.

At this point in my life, I am not directly engaged in the work of changing my community or creating new structures to support those in need.  But I am engaged in the personal work of transforming a fearful life into one of hope. One next step after another.  Which brings me to the Tom Robbins quote, above.  I have loved this quote for decades, because I believe the wise Chink makes an important point.  When we are sheltering in the cave of Fear, it is easy to delude ourselves into thinking that our only “out” is to leave the cave completely behind.  Stepping out into the pure sunshine of Hope.  But my experience of reality is not that — instead, hope and fear become inextricably mixed.  Sometimes, when I experience that weird flutter in my gut, I can’t even tell for certain which of the two caused it.

This week, today, I living in a place of hope and fear.  I am both afraid I will and afraid I won’t acheive or receive in my life some things I am hoping for.  It doesn’t really matter what these things are — what matters is that I am choosing to hope after a long period of not hoping.  And some of what I’ve hoped for has come to fruition in wonderful ways.  Does it feel less fearful, therefore, to choose hope? Not on your life!  But the quality of the fear is different.  It is a lighter, less depressing fear:   a what if I risk it and it doesn’t happen? instead of a no way can I take that risk!  Sometimes, I can still plunge without warning into the “NO” of pure fear.  But then I realize I can see a little light beginning to glow on the horizon.  Fragile, frightful, hope returns.  And I take another step.