I Have Mixed Feelings About Hope

I once found this great quote about hope in a book I was reading. It summed up all my feelings about hope in a beautifully written, evocative way, and I meant to write it down but I didn’t. Time went by and I forgot where I’d read it.

Every once in a while I look for it again. Because it haunts me. When I first read it I had that lovely feeling you get from the best books, that I’d come home, that there was at least one person in the world who thought and felt like me and everything was going to be okay. Naturally, I want that feeling again sometimes. Especially when I am hoping for something that is just not happening. I don’t hate hope, hope can be a useful, powerful tool. But in the end, the best place to be is to not need it.

I just googled “negative quotes about hope.” No go. This one by Henry Miller came up though:

“Hope is a bad thing. It means that you are not what you want to be. It means that part of you is dead, if not all of you. It means that you entertain illusions. It’s a sort of spiritual clap, I should say.”

It’s a good quote, and makes an important point, but my hope quote said that and more. Also, I don’t know what he means by a “spiritual clap.” Here’s another quote of his that I found in the same place:

“Life moves on, whether we act as cowards or heroes. Life has no other discipline to impose, if we would but realize it, than to accept life unquestioningly. Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy, and strength, if faced with an open mind. Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such.”

My only quibble would be some things truly are nasty, painful, and evil. They don’t just seem to be, they are. That said, they can still be “a source of beauty, joy, and strength, if faced with an open mind.”

These quotes make me wonder if I should revisit Henry Miller. Everyone around me in college loved him and so I read a bunch of his books. I liked them enough to finish them, but not enough to save them. You won’t find a single Henry Miller book in my library.

In the end it’s hard to let go of desire. Like my desire to read that quote again. I hope one day that I find the hope quote I love so much that tells me to let go of hope. Ha!

This hope post was brought to you by my stumbling across the picture below in the Municipal Archives digital library. It’s dated 1935-41, and it’s from the WPA Federal Writers Project collection. The caption reads:

“Tree of Hope” near Harlem’s Lafayette Theatre, 131st Street and 7th Avenue. Description: Four colored girls touch the original Tree of Hope. There is superstitious legend that to touch it brings good luck to actors seeking jobs.”

Me being me, I want to track those girls down and ask them what they hoped for and did they get it? You can read about the whole story of the Tree of Hope here.


Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

View all posts by Stacy Horn →

3 thoughts on “I Have Mixed Feelings About Hope

  1. I get what Miller meant about hope being about illusion. As for “a clap” I think he might have meant it was like a venereal disease. “The clap” used to be slang for VD.

    As for attachments and dukha, I have recently reread Benjamin Hoff’s “The Tao of Pooh” and it is charming and instructive.

  2. Both sound possible! Given that it’s Henry Miller though, I’m thinking the VD metaphor is more likely.

    Citizen Reader emailed me that suggestion too, and Philip Shelly also came up with on Facebook.

    Thank you smart people!

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