I live just sixty miles or so from Mt. Hood, where two climbers are still missing on the mountain and one has been found. Dead. Both local and national news is focused on this drama. I am too.
This afternoon I was zeroed in on a television tuned to CNN while exercising on a stairmaster at my athletic club. There was lots of talk about hope. A snow cave had been discovered. Rescuers were making their way to it.
Driving home, I heard on the radio that a body had been recovered. Yet hope was still being expressed that the two other climbers were still alive. Hope, hope, hope. The airwaves were filled to overflowing with chatter about hope.
I’m a believer in positive thinking. More accurately, I usually think positively. It doesn’t do much good to believe in something unless you also do it. So I resonate with all this hopefulness, though it seems misguided to me. Close, but no cigar.
During my daily dog walk, I take many steps. I can’t recall ever hoping that I’d take another step. I just do it. If I ever fall and break a leg, then I suppose I’ll be doing some hoping.
As the families of the missing climbers are, because they—like the radio and television commentators I heard talking about hope today—are helpless. When you can’t do anything about a situation, you hope.
By comparison, I’m pretty sure that the mountain rescue teams are doing hugely more searching than hoping. The abstraction called “hope” is concretized by action: lowering yourself down an icy slope toward the likely location of a lost climber.
In that moment, to be distracted by thoughts of what might be is risky. Take care of now and then will take care of itself.
Western religion thrives on hope in an imaginary future. I wonder if a Buddhist or Taoist cable news channel covering the story of the missing climbers would fill the airwaves with so much talk of hope. I suspect not. A reality-based spirituality worships the present moment.
I’ve written before about the journey between two steps in Tai Chi. And, everywhere else in life. Getting from here to there isn’t a discontinuous lurch. It’s an unbroken journey. Intention, the cousin of hope, does indeed propel you.
But the calculus of intention or hope resolves itself into the infinitesimal of the present moment. I hope that lifting my right foot will result in a forward step. Yet there is no place along the way where what isn’t suddenly takes a quantum leap into what is.
“Hope” is a chimera, a word pointing to a non-existent that I necessarily am clueless about.
And also, to what my ego demands of the cosmos. When I hope, my directorial mind is writing a screenplay for the future. My plot line shall be what will be, because I am the one with an Academy Award-worthy script in hand.
Problem is, everyone else in the world has their own script. As does nature, which generally does a rewrite as it sees fit. Of course, by nature I don’t mean nature. For me that word is a placeholder for whatever is really going on. If I knew what it was, I’d be enlightened.
Or a poet. Which could be the same thing. Like David Ignatow:
I should be content
to look at a mountain
for what it is
and not as a comment on my life.
Whatever has happened, is happening, or will happen on Mt. Hood is simply that. Happenings. I’ve asked “What’s God got to do with lost climbers?”
I’m pretty sure the answer is, nothing. That also happens to be the answer to another question: “What does hope have to do with finding lost climbers?” Or, God.