I’m growing a daisy from one of those little Target-dollar-bin kits. I added water to the little coin of packed soil in the kit, pressed five seeds into the dirt and hoped I would soon have some tiny “friendliest flowers” to brighten my apartment. For days, nothing (as I sort of expected), but then—a stem! One out of those five seeds sprouted. A couple days after this, I went home for the weekend; I watered it before I left and hoped for the best. When I returned, the singular thin stem had completely flopped over. It seemed like one of those I-won-a-goldfish-at-the-fair moments—it lives for this brief, exciting time (in which you manage to invest the entirety of your emotions in it) but dies a couple days after you bring it home. In a moment of panic, I watered it and left to get groceries. When I came back, the stem was standing again! The miracle of botany, I tell ya. Everything I learned in Horticulture 101 at Purdue was coming back (which, admittedly, wasn’t much), because now I am committed. Now I’m just waiting for that little stem to flower. (Update: TWO have sprouted. Unbelievable.)
The panic I felt in trying to save something that may have been past saving made me think of my dear friend Logan and the day his fish died. He came back to his dorm room and discovered his fish, Donalbain, had leapt from the tank and subsequently died on his desk. Logan told me that, in a similar save-the-plant moment, he picked up Donalbain and dropped him back in the water. I remember asking him what he was expecting—for his fish to absorb the water and spring back to life? As we cracked up over imagining what it must have looked like for a fish to launch itself out of a fishbowl (I promise we were also sad about this extra-tragic fish death), I kept saying “That’s not how that works!” when Logan would describe trying to resuscitate the fish.
But there’s something there—the ways in which we are immediately hopeful, the way our common sense leaves us and we go into saving mode. It makes me think we go to a place where there aren’t rules—where anything can be redeemed, where we can believe that wanting something to happen enough can make it happen.
Of course that’s not how it works all the time. Fish can’t be brought back to life after they’ve basically dried out on a desk. The little plant on my kitchen table may never flower.
Does that mean we should leave things alone when they’ve passed? In The Head and the Heart’s “Winter Song,” they sing “Has time driven our season away? ‘Cause that’s the way it seems.” Perhaps we have to recognize when it’s okay not to hope—when the time for something has passed. But surely we can, and should, remain hopeful, too. What should we expect—that things will come back, that things will turn out well?
I’ve been thinking about hope ever since I fell in love with Josh Ritter’s song “Hopeful,” from his newest album. This is the chorus:
And she’s hopeful, hopeful for me
I’m coming out of the dark clouds
She’s hopeful, hopeful, for me
She says it to me often
I don’t know much about when we should and shouldn’t hope and how to be hopeful and what it means to hope, in general—but I do know that I need to be reminded that I can hope. My favorite part of “Hopeful” is that last line—because what a beautiful way that is to interact with someone!—to remind them they can hope for the best things. Even in moments when I can’t hope for myself and things seem like they’ll never change, simply hearing that someone is hopeful for me…well, it makes hope look real. It has to come from somewhere, it seems—that we need people to be hopeful for us and with us to make hope a real, living thing.
We need to say it to each other often.