My friend Hubert Selby Jr., or “Cubby,” as his friends called him, used to get upset when I’d mention “hope” in talking to him.
He always said that once you had a concept, you had its opposite. That you couldn’t have up without down, left without right, right without wrong, hope without hopelessness.
His point was that “hope” created illusions about the future, whereas his thing was living fully in the moment, the “eternal now” as he called it.
That didn’t eliminate his frustration with many things in the present (see his late novel WAITING PERIOD for a take on his frustration and anger).
But it made it possible for him to be frustrated and angry, and at peace, at the same time (see the documentary, HUBERT SELBY JR.: IT’LL BE BETTER TOMORROW—an expression he gave up using because of his belief in the “eternal now”).
Or so it appeared to me—and has proven to be for me in practice.
In the situation in Iraq, or in Darfur, or Gaza, or between the Palestinians and Israelis, or almost every place in the world, there appears to be, to me at least, a lot of hopelessness lately.
But being a history buff, I know that there has always been violence and poverty, brutality and hypocrisy, death and destruction.
Though there are times of relative peace and tranquility, for some people, sometimes for most people, there are just as often times of sadness and despair.
Maybe I’m optimistic, or hopeful, because of where and when I was born and the family I was born into.
My grandfather lived in a two-room, dirt-floor, thatch-roof cottage in Ireland when he was a boy, with loads of siblings and his parents. He came to this country as a teenager, and while working as a “footman” found his wife, a “scullery maid” who also immigrated from Ireland.
My father grew up in great poverty, in a shack by the tracks when he was a boy, where my grandfather had the job of raising and lowering the barricade that stopped traffic when a train went by.
By the time my grandfather became the first cop in our town, my father and his ton of siblings were living in a house, with real windows and floors and bedrooms.
I grew up in a small house on the same street as my Irish grandfather and grandmother. There were several siblings and my parents and the occasional visitor (passing through from Ireland to their own place in “the states,” or a relative taken in when they hit a certain age, like a “spinster” great aunt or my maternal grandmother when she became a widow, or the boarder who was an old friend of my father he was helping out temporarily but ended up living in our house for eighteen years before he died) all in three small bedrooms, eventually expanded to include a room in an unfinished attic and a room made out of a back porch, etc.
In my lifetime, I’ve lived in houses bigger than the one I grew up in, and even owned a few, not many years ago.
So, maybe “hope” is a part of my story, the idea that things can always get better.
Not that “Cubby” Selby didn’t believe in things getting better. He just didn’t believe in living in the future in our heads while ignoring or trying to deny the reality of the present.
Or the possibility for things to get "worse" (if you accept the concept of "better" you must accept that "worse" comes with it, as in my now not owning any houses and living in an apartment smaller than etc. BUT because of what I learned from Selby, I am as happy, or happier than I was living in those bigger houses).
One of his most famous summaries of several spiritual traditions was a list of four steps to take when faced with adversity or disappointment or just the general unfairness, or “hopelessness” of life:
Let it go.
Return tot the eternal now.
And remember the infinite possibilities of life.”