What Is Hope?

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As some regular readers of this blog might know, I have a policy when it comes to diabetes research: I don’t want to know about it. For years, I have maintained this, with the aim of keeping my focus on the reality of living day-to-day WITH diabetes, rather than putting any energy into imagining a future WITHOUT it. And I think it’s been a decent strategy. But lately, I’ve been breaking this policy, reading more and more about the state of research and where it’s likely heading.

This change in personal policy wasn’t intentional. I Googled “diabetes research” one day when I wasn’t sure what to blog about, and what I found was just very, very interesting. The ideas and approaches floating around out there these days sound like possible “within 10 years” ideas, and that’s something new. For many years, it seemed research ideas were either so cumbersome that they made the current approach seem easy, or they sounded great but had a solid twenty logistical obstacles in their path. To hear ideas that have a ring of “plausibility” is something new. And it’s got me thinking about the role hope plays in living with diabetes today, and how we imagine the future.


Imagining the future, LIVING in the present
Living in the present is hard for all of us. It’s been hard for all of us for thousands of years. Twenty-five hundred years ago, the Buddha talked about it in India. Two thousand years ago, Jesus talked about it in Galilee. Today it’s more difficult than ever, with so many constant distractions it’s hard to keep up. The world always seems to be pulling us into a fantasy future. Advertising asks us to imagine a perfect, sunny future as long as we buy “X.” We’ll be happier if we’re thinner; we’ll be happier if we’re richer; we’ll be happier if we’re whatever it is they’re trying to sell us.

At work we always aim for the “next promotion,” always angle for the NEXT step. In school we’re always planning for whatever comes AFTER the thing we’re doing right now. In grade school, we planned for high school. In high school, we got good grades so that we could go to a good college. In college, we worked hard to get good grades to help us get a good job. As a musician, I find myself constantly hoping for that “breakthrough” gig, or imagining that if THIS year I’m playing in festival “X” on the side stage, next year I’ll play festival “Y” on the main stage.

The diabetes version of this cycle happens when we spend all of our time imagining a perfect future AFTER a cure has been discovered, tested, and implemented. I’d call this fantasizing about the future. Hope is different. While we often use the term “hope” when talking about the future (“there is hope for a cure”), I think that’s a shallow understanding. Hope DOES mean projecting something positive into our future, but it doesn’t need to be tied to events. Hope is a mindset, not a set of requirements, and we can have hope whether the future has a cure or not. Hope needs to come from us and go out into the world, not the other way around.

Living in the present with hope
As I said, I don’t think hope has to be tied to a fantasy about a “perfect” future. Hope is an internal sense of optimism and “workability,” as my mother called it. Hope is the feeling that whatever events lie in the future, there will be opportunities for happiness, contentment, and joy. And there will be. Even in the midst of intense suffering, we’ve all experienced those moments of joy that can sustain us and inspire us.

Maybe the real definition of hope is finally sinking in for me. Maybe that’s why I find myself reading these articles without slipping into fantasy or hopelessness. After all these years, maybe I’ve finally figured out how to live in the present and imagine the future with hope, cure or no cure.

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