Photo illustration by Eric Gillin, images via iStockPhoto
We are all going to die. But while this is an unfortunate byproduct of still being alive, this fact has taken on a pervasive sense of doom over the last few years. It's not that we're going to die, it's that it's going to happen right now and in an incredibly painful way. Every day it's something new: Bird flu, global warming, terrorism, gun-toting school kids, crazy old Russians stockpiling newer nukes, poisonous Chinese toothpaste...
The list goes on and on. So why do most of us resist the urge to suck down a Vicodin Stoli and call it a day? The reasons are as elusive as they are myriad. American philosopher William James once asked, “Why should we think upon things that are lovely? Because thinking determines life. It is a common habit to blame life upon the environment. Environment modifies life but does not govern life. The soul is stronger than its surroundings.”
Perhaps we're compelled to live not merely because it is a biological imperative, but because we believe things will get better. Maybe hope -- like those cravings for the sex and red meat that will eventually kill us -- is hard-wired into our DNA. Or maybe, more so than anything, hopelessness is the ideological equivalent of legwarmers or the Segway: ostensibly modern, ultimately useless.
• Patton Oswalt, actor, Ratatouille
• James Cartwright, commander, Navy SEALS
• Yellow Hawk, homeless man
• Sean Carman, attorney, Department of Justice
• Amy Sedaris, writer; actress, Shrek the Third
• Dr. Sylvia Lucas, neurologist and multiple sclerosis researcher
• Brad Listi, novelist, Attention.Deficit.Disorder
• John Roderick, guitarist, The Long Winters
• Ron Jeremy, porn star, All I Want for Christmas Is a Gangbang
• Will Napier, seven-year-old
• Kate Izquierdo, music critic, San Francisco Bay Guardian
• Randal Gage, television news executive, KOCO Channel 5
• Mistress Matisse, professional dominatrix
• Mary Rouvelas, attorney, American Cancer Society
• Kathleen Bresnahan, night-shift hostess, Denny's
• John Vanderslice, singer/songwriter, Emerald City, Pixel Revolt
• George Langley, actor, Enemy of the People
• Arthur Bradford, author; director, Dogwalker, How's Your News?
• Barfly, singer, Saturday Knights
• Sam Arefi, clerk, Union 76 gas station and food mart
"What gives me hope is the dreadful tread of history. Knowing how much closer we’ve been to the edge of destruction, and managed to pull back and save ourselves, means we’re probably going to do okay. I mean, we bounced back from the Black Plague, and the people who did it still believed in goblins. We’ve got iPods and Pinkberry now. We’re bulletproof."
-- Patton Oswalt, actor, Ratatouille
“Nothing ‘gives’ me hope, but I have it. I hope that each of my two sons will grow up to be a better man than I am. Sure, there are other things I hope for but in the grand scheme, they aren't that important. Hope is what one can find within oneself in order to make sense of things and make it all worthwhile. A struggle, no doubt. But if you need someone or something else to give you hope, then you don’t really have it. You just have an excuse.”
-- James Cartwright, commander, Navy SEALS
“When someone is a spectacular failure on every level, it crushes my spirit. When the most powerful man in the world is an arrogant bully who is actually proud of his ignorance, why even get out of bed? But when great people make a small mistake, when they inadvertently reveal their humanity through some small blunder, that gives me hope. I already loved Hugh Grant, but when he was caught getting a $50 b.j. from a sidewalk hooker, he instantly became my favorite actor.”
-- Sean Carman, attorney, Department of Justice
“What keeps me going? The feeling I got back in elementary school when Miss Parker had us plant seeds in the bottom of our Dixie cups and then days later we saw grass. That's hope in a nutshell.”
-- Amy Sedaris, writer; actress, Shrek the Third
“What keeps me working these ridiculous hours is the hope that I can make a difference in peoples' lives when they have no hope. Medicine is not about curing disease. But it’s about providing hope, support, and relief while sickness resolves or comfort, compassion and ease if it cannot.”
-- Dr. Sylvia Lucas, neurologist and multiple sclerosis researcher
“Hope is one of those wonderful lies that we tell ourselves: things will be better tomorrow. The truth is that things might not be better tomorrow. We might get hit by a bus tomorrow. Or an asteroid. Or a bullet train. And if that winds up happening, most of us are hoping for some sort of heavenly afterlife in the Great Beyond. And the interesting thing about this heavenly afterlife is that most of us imagine it as an eternal family reunion in the clouds, even though most of us don’t really like family reunions, and most of us don’t like clouds. And even if we do like family reunions, and we do like clouds, most of us wouldn’t want to be at a cloudy family reunion for eternity. Me personally? My sense of ultimate hope is more polytheistic in nature. I’m hoping for the reunion, certainly, and I’m hoping for the clouds. But I’m also hoping for some sunshine. And a beach. And eighty virgins. And Jesus’ cell phone number. And I’m hoping to be reincarnated as a rock star who also happens to be the fastest man alive. Because I believe it’s so important to stay positive.”
-- Brad Listi, novelist, Attention.Deficit.Disorder
“The Constitution of the United States. It's still the best document of its kind, and written into it are exactly the kind of protections that ensure that no person or group of persons, no matter how diabolical or insane, can hijack the country for much longer than a decade”
-- John Roderick, guitarist, The Long Winters
“What gives me hope is that I’ll have good heath. My dad is eighty-nine, quick-witted, healthy as an ox, and his mom lived to be in her mid-nineties. I have a pet tortoise named Cherry and her lifespan is one hundred and sixty. So God or Mother Nature wants us to live that long to keep tortoises company.”
-- Ron Jeremy, porn star, All I Want for Christmas Is a Gangbang
“City life is a clash of concrete, temper and finance that does little to assuage my darkest social inclinations. But where there is struggle, there is regeneration. I live in hope, then, because despair precludes participating in the war against those who are complacent, those who are cruel, and those who wear deck shoes to the office.”
-- Kate Izquierdo, music critic, San Francisco Bay Guardian
“The surprises keep things interesting. You can't predict how a sunset will flare over the horizon, how swimming in the sea under a warm blue sky will feel.”
-- Randal Gage, television news executive, KOCO Channel 5
"Phrases like 'having hope' and 'what keep me going' to me seem of imply that one is under some sort of ongoing duress. What keeps me going is that I'm happy and I like my life. I don't think of it as having hope, I'm just...happy."
-- Mistress Matisse, professional dominatrix
“I have hope because despite the rapes and murders, there are outpourings of love and sympathy afterwards. Even better, there are the everyday moments, like when I saw two men running with a handkerchief held between them. I found out later they were training for a marathon. One was blind, and the other was leading the way.”
-- Mary Rouvelas, attorney, American Cancer Society
"I'm excited to go to college. That's my next big adventure. I'm modeling with Seattle Models Guild. I'm going to see where it goes. If college doesn't work out, I'll have modeling as a fallback."
-- Kathleen Bresnahan, night-shift hostess, Denny's
“Caffeine gives me hope. Sometimes, when I brew my wicked strong Irish black tea just perfect, about halfway through the mug I feel a clear and overwhelming feeling of optimism. It didn't surprise me when a study a few years ago implied that suicide was much less likely among coffee and tea drinkers.”
-- John Vanderslice, singer/songwriter, Emerald City, Pixel Revolt
“Most recently, what has given me hope comes from Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything where he makes the following observation about the human species: ‘For complex organisms, the average lifespan of a species is only about four million years -- roughly where we are now.’ Maybe our selfish little reign of terror is nearly at its end. Other than that, The Family Circus pretty much gets me out of bed everyday. ‘What are girl chipmunks called? CHICKmunks!’ Priceless.”
-- George Langley, actor, Enemy of the People
“As much as we talk about how everything's going to shit, it really isn't. Young people come along and take a look at things and will surprise us with new ideas. And I recently read Ishmael Beal's book A Long Way Gone. Even though it's filled with horrors and hopeless situations, at least there's this one guy who made it out and wrote this great book. When someone can produce something like that from the madness of his life, it gives me hope.”
-- Arthur Bradford, author; director, Dogwalker, How’s Your News?
“I actually have a tattoo on my left forearm of a cocktail bomb wrapped in a banner with the word ‘hope’ in it. Trying to articulate what that tattoo means usually just makes me sound nuts so I always leave it open to interpretation. What keeps me going is a desperate fear I might miss out on something amazing if I don't keep on truckin'. I mean, the Red Sox won a World Series. What's next? ‘Ghost riding the whip’ in the Olympics? Free wi-fi in Bakersfield? Oh yeah, and 2012. I want to see if the shit really hits the fan when the Mayan calendar expires in 2012. ”
-- Barfly, singer, Saturday Knights
"You know, after what my dad went through, what I do is not that hard. He escaped from Iran during the war with Iraq. He came here with, literally, twenty bucks in his pocket and now he owns a bunch of businesses. So I give myself hope. I wake up each day and say 'I'm happy.'"
-- Sam Arefi, clerk, Union 76 gas station and food mart