I’m Skyping with a woman I’ll call Jessie Shaw who lives in Martha’s Vineyard. We were partners a long time ago. Our liaison ended with a clean breakup followed by a five-year cool-off. Since then we’ve worked our way back into our worlds, which was not that hard; in fact, it was probably unavoidable.
Jessie comes at you with shoulder-blade-long blond hair, oval face, full lips, sledgehammer turquoise eyes, a swimmer’s shoulders and body, all flesh components freckled and happy. She knows how to work, she’s smart, and often funny. Of her many fine qualities, the one that stands out like a lighthouse beacon is optimism. She’s the most optimistic person I’ve ever known. Jessie lives inside a bubble of optimism, and when you’re around her, you do too. I still miss that.
There’s a fine line between optimism and an annoying, mindless, pollyannaish take on life. I can’t point out exactly where that line is, but I can say she stays on the reality side of the street.
I ask, “How’s the week going?”
Jessie moves toward the webcam, the image is grainy, a bit out of focus, but good enough for me to see her little-girl-at-the-circus smile. Suddenly, and as usual, I feel as if I am the only person who has ever, in this case, asked how her week was going. She says, “It’s been great. I finally painted the kitchen nook. Screaming yellow,” Jessie laughs. “David [husband] got a raise.” Ms. Shaw rolls her eyes, lets out an emphatic “Yippee,” glows gladness, and says, “but the important news is Eightball, she’s had four kittens.” Jessie picks up the webcam, points it under her desk. I see mom lying on a Hopi blanket with four newborn kittens snuggled up to her belly, hear Jessie choke up and whisper, “Won...der...ous.”
Optimism is one thing, hope is another. I have never been able to move up from hope, which I take to be the passive side of optimism. It doesn’t take much effort to come up with something to hope for. But to see this world and the people in it optimistically, despite all the shit that rains down on us, is a flat-out gift. For me, hope will have to do.
There are the usual sports hopes: that the Chargers get to the Super Bowl next year, Padres make it to the World Series, San Diego State basketball ends its season as national champion, Lance Armstrong turns out to be innocent (granted, that one is a stretch). I place these hopes in the category of generic hopes, somewhere between the hope for world peace and hope for good weather this weekend. They’re fine, but those kinds of hope don’t hit me in the gut; they’re out there in the ether beyond my daily life. What can we hope for that is real, that is possible, and that is close in?
There’s always the hope of love, which can come anytime, anywhere, from anybody. Watch for it.
What is gambling if not hope? Hope the parlay comes through, hope Green Bay covers, hope to fill a four-card flush. Hope the movie is good, the car starts, parking is easy. Hope for a good tee time, hope for a spot on the team, hope it rains, hope it doesn’t, hope for faith, hope for help, hope for a good time.
There is hope, when trying something new, that it will provoke that body rush of This is great! This is fun! — like first sex or the time you discovered poetry, off-road racing, gardening, fly-fishing, knitting, the history of Madagascar, or whatever it was that knocked your eyes to the back of your head.
There is the hope of becoming a better person, getting a better job, finding a better spouse. Hope of accepting who you are, enjoying your job, being constant with your mate.
There is the hope of getting through the day. Hope of getting through the night, getting through illness, getting through war, getting through prison, getting though the divorce, the school year, the dentist appointment, the grocery-store line.
Hope that this time it’s going to work. Hope nobody saw that. Hope tomorrow is better. Hope she says yes. Hope the airplane is on time. Hope it’s late. Hope the blood test is negative. Hope the mechanic is honest, hope the dogs are friendly, hope to get the job, hope there’s a beer in the fridge, hope to grow up, hope to stay young, hope the pain stops, hope for sex tonight, hope for no sex tonight, hope the fish are biting, hope the campsite is dry.
I hope you have a good weekend. Truly.