I sat with my daughter today as she tried to pare down the list of presents she hopes to receive for her birthday, just a little over a month away. For a nine year-old, who is still learning the value of money, and only just beginning to be aware of the needs of others before she thinks of her own wants, this was a very difficult task. When you’re nine and you’re wooed by the colors and sounds of the latest gadgets, or the status and style of the latest clothes, or even (albeit a little secretly because you’re too old for such things) by the beauty and marketing of the latest doll, it’s hard to set your own limits. You want to hope for everything. You want to have it all.
It’s a time when your hope is young but it’s wild and rampant. You don’t restrain it. You’re not afraid to wish.
As I was helping my daughter today, there was a part of me that was sad, homesick for that unrestrained hope, that time before you learn that you don’t get everything you hope for. (Though, thank God because we’re protected from some of the useless things we’ve hoped for. We can’t really know what we want until we know what we need.)
But the funny thing about hope is that the older we get, the more fragile our hoping becomes. We try to protect ourselves, to not hope too much or we’ll be disappointed. We want to save ourselves from the letdown.
And yet, we can’t help it. We may turn our eyes, but we can’t turn our hearts.
The difference for me between childlike hope and our own more fragile hope is that children can wish on a thousand stars in the sky and never run out of wishes or stars. And if they don’t get what they want, their wish is still out there somewhere, floating around in the universe, waiting, quite possibly, to come true. Our hoping is more knowing, more informed, but all the more tender because we know that if it’s to be, we play a part in making it true. And we fear we’re not up to the task.
Fear not, friends. Even our dashed hopes can lead to achieving impossible dreams.
My youth was green, like tender shoots
Sprayed with chartreuse,
Limed with strokes of light,
Blind but reaching
Then turned its face,
Its knowing eyes cast
Toward cooling clay,
Its hoping, ever greener