Hope Springs Eternal

Filed Under (Single Parenthood) by Estee on 22-01-2009

In the cold, grayness of a bleak Canadian winter not to mention global climate, a new American President reminds us that hope springs eternal. There is something powerful in a single man who can move millions of people to hope again, and to act for themselves. But let’s not get too trite about hope.

In Mark Matousek’s book, When You’re Falling, Dive, which I’ve read this week, he reminds us that instead, “hope is a waifish thing stranded on a lonely cliff, barefoot, tempest torn, eyes concealed behind a blindfold as she reaches her empty hand out toward a harp with only one string.” (p. 73). He is of course is referring to Watt’s painting above. Her fingers strain “towards an instrument that offers her only chance of music, yet has only one string still intact, as likely to snap as it is to play.”

He compares this to life itself and we are the blindfolded members of society, reaching, straining into our next moments knowing that the string might snap in our face. “But if you don’t reach, you’re not really living,” he says.

Baruch Spinoza said hope is inspired by fear. For without fear we would have no hope and without hope, no fear. Spinoza was also not being too trite about hope. He implies that it is only fear that motivates it. Buddhists believe in the duplicity in our lives. It is the struggle and the joy earned, for without walking willingly through hell, we would not reach the other side. It all eludes to the craft of life, of living, really. For if we lost all hope, we would not be able to carry on, and if we did not accept the darkness, we would not know hope or joy or heaven, or whatever you want to call it. This is “not the naive hope that everything will be hunky-dory, exactly as life used to be, but the hope that assures us, when things seem darkest, that although it doesn’t look that way now, something else is also true.” It is also true of perspective. We have one and there is always another.

Often, you hear me write on this blog over and over and over again about autism acceptance and joy. More often, I read misinterpreted, glossy if not sickeningly-sweet definitions of what acceptance and joy and even hope means in autism or life itself that concerns me greatly. It concerns me because if expectations are unmet, many children face dangerous consequences, not to mention that parents can remain in an everlasting depression. Expectations are a staid way of existence. My father always told me not to expect anything in life. I really didn’t like this when he said it. I defied him. Until now. Forty-three years later, my father’s irritating wisdoms that I received as a teenager ring not only true, they give me peace as I live and learn.

Matousek says, “fixated hope is a problem,” meaning, a desire for a particular outcome in any aspect of life can leave one stuck. “It’s easy to become hope’s hostage,” he says, “to imprison ourselves in optimism, entrap ourselves through inflexible craving for a premeditated result. We risk spending our time consumed by longing, obsessed with all the things we don’t have and unhappy with what life has chosen to give us.” (p. 75).

Buddha believed that all things come to an end. Our children grow up, our families and friends will die, we may gain and lose our fortunes. The wheel keeps turning. As long as we believe things last, then suffering is inevitable. The Dalai Lama asks us to keep our hearts open in hell – at a time when we are suffering most and when compassion is more difficult. This art of living, this craft as it were, is like “turning poison into a boon.”

The more we remain flexible and become at “ease with uncertainty, ‘poise amidst shakiness,’ by learning to stay with the broken heart and rumbling stomach and achieving some detente with hopelessness, can we be truly happy,” says American born Buddhist master Pema Chodron. “In a world of hope and fear we always have to change what is. But when we allow ourselves to feel uncertainty, disappointment, shock, embarrassment, we discover a mind that is clear, unbiased and fresh.”

Life and autism and all the feelings and fears and hope that surround it all, is a contradiction. If we can accept this duplicity in all things, this double-ness which is our reality, “acceptance would trump hopelessness.”

Let me relay one more story from Matousek’s chapter where he talks about a teacher in Thailand named Achaan Chah. ”

In Thailand,” says Matousek, “people in this country use therapists or astrologers. One day a father from the town came to Achaan Chah’s monastery, extremely upset, to ask the master how he could possibly live with not being able to protect his children in such a violent world. How could this man, this father, hope to survive his kids’ tragedies, the thousand blows that life would deal them? Achaan Chah lifted a lovely crystal goblet from his side table and help it up to the sun.

“I like this glass,” the master said, delighting in the diamond light patterns shining through its thousand facets. “I find this glass very beautiful. When the sun shines through it, there are rainbows. When you test it, it gives a wonderful ring. But I know that this glass is already broken.”

The worried father did not understand.

“Each time I sip from this glass, I enjoy it,” the master continued. “And yet, when a strong wind tips it over or I knock this glass with my elbow and it shatters into a thousand pieces, I will say ‘Ah, so, it was already broken.”

Achaan Chah seemed to be suggesting to the father that were he to love his children in this way, each moment he spent with them would be so direct, and so precious, that there would be no room for regret, no necessity for hope.

And then there is the girl on the rock with the broken harp. I like Matousek’s thinking about her and hope as he wonders whether the girl would still want to play the harp with her blindfold off because she would no longer bother to reach seeing that the harp was already broken. “Or whether the girl would still want to play because playing itself is in her nature, knowing that one string can be enough, and if that last string breaks, she can always sing.”

I am writing, really, about two things. About a recent and personal loss and about autism because I have discovered that life is not that numb comfy place that I tried so hard to protect. Life is about constant change and crisis and comfort and then change again. The more we can roll with the punches and accept the hand we are dealt, be it our children or whatever happens to us in our lives, the more we may actually grow more content with it all.

Today, I feel like that girl on the rock. We can live each day and accept and sing, or we can worry and wonder if or when that one string will break. I can’t help but feel a new hope in general — much of it is self-generated — perhaps that is what has driven The Joy of Autism since 2005 — and this post ironically coincides with the recent appointment of a hopeful new President who seems to instill the same idea that we must all keep carrying on. My own personal story is not really about Adam or autism, which I have come to accept now with ease, but of becoming a single mother, not yet anchored, but still savoring each moment during a period that enables me to see things in a new way, that pains me, that makes me stronger to become again, perhaps create, and still no matter what… sing happy and sad songs as I drift along. It’s all okay.


Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.


About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (www.taaproject.com), and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.