In recent years I’ve learned two things about myself. First, despite many reasons to remain negative, I’m relentlessly hopeful. Over time, a product of my hope is that I encourage people to be their best. Second, there’s a dark perspective on how I see life, yet I use it to care for others. I’ve concluded that my approach to my life is a “dark hope.”
While many others have had a more difficult life, I’ve had a lot of life trauma. Sadly, the most consistent element for the first half of my life was instability. From moves to frequent parental divorces to dramatic deaths, I rarely experienced calm. As a result, there’s plenty of room for me to play the blame game, to have been in jail, and even to feel owed by others. In fact, for years, I did feel uniquely entitled in ways that I did not recognize. Fortunately, no matter the trauma or my attitude, I still hold an internal hope for myself and others.
Undoubtedly, it’s not a coincidence that I’ve been most successful in helping people through their worst moments, from suicide prevention programming to being an Army Chaplain, a Hospice Chaplain, and as a Bereavement Coordinator. Even now, I’m a Chaplain Supervisor helping clinically train students through their harrowing pasts’ to serve others better. So while I still hope, I do hope in the darkest areas of human need. Despite my optimism, there persists an irrational fear.
Having lost my closest family members by age 25, I fear living the ending of the Green Mile. In the movie, Tom Hank’s character Paul Edgecomb lives a punishment where he has to watch everyone around him die before he passes. In other words, each person he becomes close with will die before he does, and he’ll have to repeatedly relive grief. That’s my irrational nightmare.
No, I don’t think I’m being punished, nor am I cursed, and I don’t fear death; I dread losing everyone again and starting over relationally, even if it’s just for a few years later in life. While that’s a hell I never want to become true, I see hope, optimism, and an ability to love life even in that nightmare.
Darkness cannot overcome the light. Instead, the light still exists, even if it’s faintly evident. Meaning any dread we carry, hope remains. Returning to Paul Edgecomb’s example, he knew his reality but never stopped living! He still built relationships; he still let himself grieve; he kept living life. Despite my fear and nightmare, I will continue living and building relationships. And you should not stop living either!
Today, my fears allow me to savor each day, love each relationship, and seek out experiences to live life while possible. No matter my dim past combined with my optimism, I embrace my “dark hope” where I enjoy life better than ever! No, I’m not encouraging you to be a sadist. However, I acknowledge that I enjoy wearing darker noir-style clothing, listening to intense music, having a dark sense of humor, and having my childhood hero as Batman because he represents a dark and hopeful identity.
These things and more are authentically part of who I am. They are my artistic expression where I see hope in the midst of hurt. Plus, I know times of celebration are more meaningful after they’ve followed times of grief. It may take longer than we wish, but that pattern allows us to hope relentlessly. By doing so, we will see life even in our darkest paths.
Sure, I fear, I love living, and even savor this green mile that is my life; I do so because I know there are streets of gold ahead! No matter our past or hurt, plenty of life remains left to live!