The French philosopher Gabriel Marcel in his book Homo Viator said, “… hope is for the soul what breathing is for the living organism.” But, we all know it is not always easy to hope. Some moments in life refuse to submit to the idea that things will get better if one perseveres just a little more.
But how does one persevere when they don’t have the will anymore? How does one hope when they have been let down for years? How does one hope when their work, that they put soul and heart into day and night, is not valued and rewarded? How does one hope when those responsible for their livelihood refuse to give it to them?
How does one hope when they have not seen their dear ones for many years and won’t for many more? How does one hope when their heart and soul were destroyed by something they can only talk about to their therapist? How does one hope when they have to fight trauma every day, even in sleep?
In such moments, even if one dares hope for themselves, one also desires to despair because as Thomas Van in Gabriel Marcel: An Introduction said, “To hope also contains the temptation to despair.” “To despair,” Van said, “means to lay one’s head down, to capitulate and to resign oneself to a certain fate.”
He says what is worse than resignation to a certain fate is the renunciation of being oneself and the anticipation of one’s annihilation. Resignation and annihilation become tempting because to hope, it seems to oneself, is to betray and dishonor one’s despair. The feeling of pure despair in a strange way becomes more desirable than hope.
Taking refuge in despair becomes more alluring because hope betrays and despair does not. Despair is unmistakably upright in that it exists to destroy oneself. It is also the case sometimes that the distinction between the two becomes meaningless when the outcome of one’s life’s labor is constant anguish and fear for survival, mentally and emotionally.
Perhaps, it is also true that to resign to despair is easier than to submit to hope because maintaining the latter requires hard mental and intellectual labor, especially after being perennially beaten down by life’s circumstances that one hoped would turn out to be pleasant.
Oftentimes, one feels like a rope in the permanent tug of war between hope and despair, with seemingly little to no control over who beats down whom. But usually, it also seems as if the mind has a way to keep a balance between the two because, perhaps, it is in this equilibrium where life is found.
In human culture, it is hope in which people seek refuge when insurmountable adversity and uncertainty strike. All, one is told, that they need to do is to hope for the better and everything will be fine. But in reality, it is hard to believe that, because, sometimes, hope does not mean anything. Instead, it is easier to find safety in despair, albeit momentarily.