The Dalai Lama says the purpose of life is happiness, sustained by hope. His logic is simple and attractive: since the future is unknowable, we may as well approach it with hope, with optimism.
All I can say is, the Dalai Lama is not Catholic.
I grew up in a religion which taught that hope can only be the result of ultimate sacrifice. God the Father sacrifices his only Son, who accepts and dies a brutal death to atone for my sins. The Baltimore Catechism defines hope as a divine virtue by which we firmly trust that God will give us eternal life and the means to obtain it.
No wonder I was a suspicious child.
Hope was the result of a constantly re-enacted story of brutal sacrifice. Hope was for the powerless who had nothing else to turn to. Hope was for the dupe who was ready to be tricked. Hope at its most benign was synonymous with maybe, wait, and don’t expect anything, as in “Let’s just hope for the best.” Words that still make my heart sink.
Hopeful people worried me. They didn’t seem to be possession of all the facts. My biologist son tells me that suspicion is necessary to good science, along with imagination. You might hope for a good result, but you’d better have the facts to back it up.
Suspicion is from the Latin sub- (from below) and specere (to look), to look from below. That’s me. I want to get underneath things. I don’t trust things as they first appear. I want to know what is hidden beneath the surface.
And yet—I hope. I reject the teachings of my religious childhood about hope based on sacrifice, and I hate that I was tricked into putting up with abuse by false promises. But I hope. Why? The phrase “as I live and breath” comes to mind. In an interesting way, hoping is like breathing to me. My friend Diane said this morning: Where there’s life, there’s hope.
I asked my biologist son what he thought hope was. He shrugged, and said, hope is hope. It’s one of those basic things. When I looked for the root of the word hope, I found he was right. Hope is from the German hopia, which means to hope.
The most hopeful (see?) possible etymology of the word hope is a connection with the verb hop, “leaping in expectation.” As in dancing.
That’s my definition of hope today: Dancing towards fullness of life. I’m smiling my best Dalai Lama smile.