I was raised not to have hope.
In fact, the working file name for this book is “Attempt”. Like “reach” versus “grab” or “try” versus “succeed”.
My mother instilled this; a child of war, her hope shattered with the death of her younger brother, at the age of nine.
Never mind that this death was likely preventable; she sapped the hope out of life and replaced it with fear, and so, for forty years, this has been my inheritance.
Can I change my inheritance? I’m trying. I try. (succeed?)
When I went for my first audition, at the age of 7, for the San Francisco Girls Chorus, where another parent might have put words of encouragement, my mother put caution. “Don’t get too excited,” she said. “It’s a professional group. Don’t get your hopes up.” Even after I got placed in the Training Group (not even the lowest level), when I went for the first rehearsal she cautioned me to not feel badly that the other girls were going to be so much better than I was.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” was the mantra for my childhood.
Instead of not getting them up, I got them down. Instead of fantasizing about a world in which I would be a famous singer, I envisioned shattered dreams. And, as my dreams grew, so, too, did the images of the dreams shattering; from typical naked performance dreams, to terrified “never seen the music before” solo nightmares, to visions of my loved ones dying.
I wish I could have taken it to heart.
When your mother dies when you are 22, older people who haven’t experienced anything remotely like what you are going through, older people with two living parents or who got to have their parents into their forties or later, who got to work through their issues with their parents to any degree at all, even if that degree was “they’re assholes and we’re not talking anymore”, say some really asinine shit. Things like “prepare yourself”.
This is bullshit.
Newsflash – there is nothing you can do to prepare yourself. And, very close to the final, choking moments of death-by-lung-cancer (non-smoking inflicted, to answer your silent question), we found ourselves with hope. Still with hope. Aging, graceless, grasping, blinders-on hope.
This is what you do when your mother dies at 56. Logically, you know that there is no way out. You know that this is not a game of odds. But it doesn’t matter, because the alternative is unthinkable. And so you hope. And you will tell yourself not to, but you will hope anyway, and you won’t believe it’s over, even when your sister holds a stethoscope to your mother’s heart, hearing its final beat, and, finally, after two minutes of no heartbeat, says “she’s gone”.
The moments between the last heartbeat and the waiting for the next heartbeat, you will know two things at once. You will know that this is the only peaceful finale to a messy, messy symphony. And you will know that you would turn heaven and earth, jump into the fire, sacrifice yourself if you could, to alter this course.
That is hope.
It is a temptress, a vixen, a cruel master, yet one we all obey if we are to exist in this world at all.
So here I am, on the tail-end of this journey, a different person than set foot into a second (functional) longtail at Pak Meng pier 11 days ago, different still than the person who got on a plane on December 26, and yet still I fear. And I have had more than one inexplicable opportunity on this voyage to face this fear, this pervasive thing in my life, that tells me not to get my hopes up, tells me I don’t to have this amazing, seeking voyage without dying in a plane crash at the end of it because, you know what? The universe requires balance. And I have been witness to and experienced so much beauty, earthly and otherwise, that I fear the pendulum swing.