Widening the field of vision of your hope

Doctor will I be able to play the violin after my surgery?

Of course, you’ll have no problem playing the violin.

That’s strange, I could never play it before.

A short meditation on hope

Everyone knows that old joke, but what makes it funny and why has it been told and retold over so many decades?

At least part of the reason that it is funny is that it deals with human hopes and expectations. Expecting to be nearly as good as new after a surgery might be reasonable, even if a little optimistic.  Expecting to acquire vast new powers or abilities may be unrealistic.

I went to a great seminar on hope today, given by psychologist Denise Larsen, who studies hope. She provided several definitions of hope, but one that I liked a lot came from Jevne and Edey and went something like this…

Hope is the ability to envision a future that we want to participate in.

There were a lot of people at this seminar and there were a lot of questions about false hope. Denise didn’t seem comfortable with the label of false hope and instead referred to unshared hopes. I would go even a bit further: There is no such thing as false hope, as long as one actually honestly has that hope. There may be unrealistic expectations in the sense that one can hope for something that is unlikely to occur. But the likelihood of occurrence is not actually a reason to hope for something or not. Here is another silly joke:

I hope I win the lottery 

Did you know you have  a better chance of being struck by lightening than winning the lottery?

Okay then, I guess I’ll hope that I get struck by lightening?

Of course, some things are more probable than others but mere probability is no reason to hope for something. We hope for things because we truly want them, and, even if they are unlikely our hopes are real. There is nothing wrong with one hoping that he or she wins the lottery or that science or divine intervention or some combination of the two provides a miracle. In fact, some people actually do win the lottery, and miracles (or at least wonderful, improbable, and unexplainable outcomes) do occur in some cases.

So, can hoping for something ever be a bad thing? Well my answer is both Yes and No. It is not the hope itself that causes problems, but rather it can be too narrow a focus on a single outcome that gets us into trouble. Buying an occasional lottery ticket and hoping it is a winner is not so bad, but basing one’s life entire life on winning so that one will never be satisfied unless and until that win, is likely to result in a life of failure and regret.

As parents of children with a progressive and life-threatening syndrome, the shared dream of a cure or at least major treatment that substantially eases symptoms and prolongs life is an a vital focus of our hope. It is not a foolish or unrealistic hope because a genuine breakthrough certainly could occur. Going back to the definition that talks about envisioning a future that we want to participate in, however, I think we also need to envision other futures that we can accept that are not entirely dependent on that one outcome. I think these other hopes may make our lives and our children’s lives better, whether or not we or our children live long enough for big breakthrough.

I think that each of us could make a long list of hopes but I will start with just two hopes that I have, and would love to hear from any of you who have hopes to share:

I hope that my son will continue to smile or laugh at least once on most days to come.

I hope that when I look back at my own role as a parent, I will be able to honestly tell myself, he did the best he could.


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