When I was a kid, my Mamaw had this funny expression. When I’d ask where she was going, she’d always gather her fingers to her thumb, waive her hand at me, and in a thick Sicilian accent respond, “Palermo!”
It made no sense. I had no idea who, what, where, or when “Palermo” was. And, sensing that she was not in the mood for additional questions, I’d let it drop. Still wondering… Palermo?
This next part is a little embarrassing, but here goes. I was in my high school geography class when I figured out where Palermo is. Growing up with Sicilian relatives (lots of them), you would have thought that I would have learned about Palermo long before the ripe age of sixteen.
And then for a much longer time – I just assumed that Palermo was a physical place that Mamaw wanted to visit. What I’ve come to realize is that there was a deeper longing in “Palermo.” When she was frustrated with her current state of affairs, my Mamaw imagined that Palermo held the promise of something better.
I’ve never been to Palermo, but I’m guessing that things aren’t really much better there. The world is overrun with pain, disease, pollution, greed, poverty, and violence. (And the list goes on) Whether you live in North Korea or North Dakota, South Africa or South Carolina, New Zealand or New Mexico, Paducah or Palermo – things are not the way they are supposed to be– things are not better.
We’re all disgruntled citizens of this earth. It’s this collective discontentment that sets us in search for the way things should be. And, how you define “hope” will define your journey.
On the one hand, “hope” is “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.” Sounds pretty good. We want things to be better and feel (strongly even) that they will be better. The problem is that this sounds a lot like “wishful thinking.” What actually drives us from point A to point B? Feelings. Not good. Feelings are all over the map – ranging from the superficial to the significant –from “I hope Santa brings a new bike” to “I hope they find a cure.” I am so wishy-washy. If my wants, desires, and wishes” defined my path, my journey would have more twists and turns than a bowl of my Mamaw’s spaghetti and meatballs. Wait a minute – that is exactly what my journey looks from a bird’s-eye view.
Because hope and feelings are so closely connected, hope is often misunderstood. Raise your hand if you know that perpetually peppy person who never says a negative word no matter how dire their situation. No matter the severity of the calamity, they always have a smile and pithy word of encouragement like “Everything happens for a reason.” On the other end of the spectrum, we all know that person that no matter how trivial the situation, the sky is falling, and things will NEVER get better.
Hope is the tension between perpetually peppy (a.k.a. “denial”) and chicken little (a.k.a. “despair”). Denial is an imbalance toward a “false hope,” while despair is an imbalance toward the pain. The key to resisting a pull in either direction – being firmly centered.
There is another definition of “hope” that has less to do with what we feel and more to do with the choices we make. “Hope” is “a person or thing in which expectations are centered.” It’s where we choose to place our trust that things will be better.
They say that “love” is a choice. I’d suggest the same applies to “hope.” When things are really bad, who really feels hopeful? Regardless of how we feel about a circumstance, we can still choose where we will place our faith that things will get better.
I use the word “better” carefully here. There are some circumstances about which you cannot fathom better. I can certainly point to events in my life about which better does not seem an option. Yet, that is the desire of “hope” – that circumstances will be better. Sometimes, the belief that we’ll never see hope in this lifetime causes us great despair. Yet, the desire remains.
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, then most probably the explanation is that I was made for another world.” (C. S. Lewis)
And that circles us back around to the question of in whom can we center our expectations? For me, there is only one choice. I place my trust in God’s promise of eternity. Things aren’t the way they are supposed to be here on earth, but God has promised a new earth where life will exceed our wildest imaginations.