A Shot at Yahtzee

If Emily Dickinson is right that “hope is a thing with feathers,” it’s a blast-beruffled bird, a puff-ball clamped to a twig, its eyes fixed on distance, some deep gene crying “Survive, survive.”

Hope doesn’t come so naturally to me, but I assure you it’s there, buried as deep.

I remember assuming success, my youthful confidence believing, thinking, speaking, or acting.  Everything would be fine, and, if it weren’t, so what?  Failure was truly another opportunity.  Possibilities cascaded from any risk before me. I didn’t rule the world, but I made laws for my part of it.  I anticipated obedience.

Now, not so much.  Gather enough experience of mishaps—or just read the newspaper every damn day—and you’re sure to despair.  The older I get, the harder optimism becomes.  It requires will.  My predilection is to collect doomsday scenarios like box tops, each closer to the grand send-away.  Perversely, I find myself desiring the thought to end all thoughts, the other side where my mirror self says, “The worst has happened.  From here, only hope.”

But Emily still isn’t wrong.  Each flip is a new coin, an opening for flight. As long as chance dictates, I might roll yahtzee yet.  Humans have to be constructed that way or we wouldn’t bother to eat, sleep, or breathe… and even I see far enough to do that.

Hope is more properly a flame, a trick birthday candle sure to re-ignite, fire impossible to extinguish.


Filed under Doubt, Emily Dickinson, Essays, Experiments, Hope, Laments, life, Meditations, Survival, Thoughts, Writing

4 responses to “A Shot at Yahtzee

  1. My first reaction to “The worst has happened. From here, only hope.” was:
    Well, we know David isn’t in need of AA!

    I’m not sure that hope comes naturally to anybody past the age of, say, thirty-eight. The reason the news is “news” is that it is not everyday stuff. Most of life goes on smoothly, or the news articles would be all about parades and garden flowers.

    I like that last line. I’m sure that trick birthday candle would be happier if it were in pure oxygen, but you’re absolutely right: It does always relight despite the imperfect conditions surrounding it.

    Maybe Al Anon, but not AA.

    Thoreau said that all news is just the new application of a familiar pattern—fires destroy property and/or people, people wage wars, they steal and trick, they relish gossip, etc.—which makes it worse for me. I don’t need to listen to the same news again, particularly if it confirms how manifest our foolishness is.

    I like your perspective better. Maybe we are only seeing variations from our otherwise good lives. If so, my candle does burn in pure oxygen.

    I love your comments. Thanks for visiting. —David

  2. MCG

    The question for me is whether the effort of optimism is worth it.

    I’ve always had what I think of as a snow day philosophy. (Stop me if I’ve told you this one.)

    Some winter afternoon, the air would be fraught with chatter about the possibility of snow. I would stand resolute in my pessimism on this point. “It never snows,” I’d say. “The weather people are incompetent.” All the while, in the back of my mind, I’d be hoping that it would, in fact, snow.

    But by expressing doubt, I covered all my bases. If it snowed, I’d be pleasantly surprised. And if it didn’t…well, at least then I’d be right.

    I have the same philosophy. If you want to sound all highfalootin’ about it, you could say you think like Pascal, who said it was better to believe in God and the afterlife because, if they didn’t exist, you’d have lost nothing. The alternative would be much worse.

    How terrible it is to be at a school that never, never, never, never grants snow days. An occasional snow day does wonders for the soul and ought to be randomly bestowed in all seasons. Right now, everyone at school is wishing swine flu will close the school for a week, and that says so much about hope and despair. None of US are going to get swine flu—we can’t really believe any misfortune will be ours—and assume we’ll be the beneficiary of someone’s trouble (without articulating it that way, of course).

  3. Pingback: Hope: More Than a Condiment « Slow Muse

  4. David, I thought this was terrific and wanted to share it with my readers too. So well done.

    Thanks for posting it–I’ve had a number of reasons to require hope lately, and I’m grateful it’s so difficult to avoid!

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