Mothers of Intention — The Meaning of Hope, by Jen Lemen

Tue, May 26, 2009

Mothers of Intention

Welcome to this week’s Mothers of Intention post-Memorial Day edition! There are so many different ways mothers are trying to change the world and I’m honored that Jen Lemen, who is about to set off on an amazing photographic world journey, Picture Hope, has allowed me to cross-post her essay The Meaning of Hope. Whenever I hang out at her blog, I know that there will always be a nugget of wisdom that I can use in my own life. Thank you, Jen, for letting me share this amazing post!


There’s a storm brewing around me, and everywhere I turn someone is having a crisis about the meaning of hope. The questions are sometimes spoken, but mostly silent, and they sound something like this:

If I don’t want to travel around the world to (maybe scary) places and ask people questions about hope, am I still a hopeful person?
Can you be hopeful and incredibly doubtful at the same time?
Is there some sort of expert definition of hope and do you have to be a survivor of various tragedies to claim it?
What if the hope you know best is the kind that shows up in tiny moments–like giving a child a bath or washing the dishes or making a bed–and what if you’re not so hopeful about other things–like if the person you love loves you back? or if your life can be dramatically different than it is right at this moment, even though you desperately wish it was?
Is being hopeful best left to a hope specialist? or do regular people who (theoretically) have nothing to complain about really have a shot at that thing at all?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I’m watching carefully as the questions unravel the askers and I’m hoping against all hope I have nothing to do with all the accompanying self-doubt, but I’m not so sure.

What I do know is that hope starts as a seed and if you are very, very lucky, you find a place to plant it, and someone else comes along and waters it and little by little together you can watch it grow. What it grows into no one can predict exactly unless you were also lucky enough to find the master gardener who gave it to you and ask her what it will turn out to be, but even if you can find that person and she decide to tell you, I’m not sure you could believe her or that your heart could even let you know the answer–the future of seeds being generally mysterious and uncertain, especially to the person who’s never held a seed before.

At least not a seed as simple and innocent as this.

It was just a flash, anyway, right?
The way you felt when you saw the fire in her little girl eyes. The way your heart leapt when you first looked through the lens at running water, fresh turned earth. The way you knew everything had to change when you heard your name, when you read the fine print.

It hardly matters.

Or does it?

Hope asks that you notice tiny moments, each one, but not only this. Hope asks that you trust them, that you listen to them, that you take that sneaking suspicion that the Universe is indeed a safe place, a good place even and that you plant it deep into that dark corner of your heart.

It’s a ridiculous act, and no one need know. Until, of course, everyone has to know. That something’s growing here. And that whatever it is, it is no longer meant for darkness, that it is taking over actually. That it is expanding beyond the confines of your mind and twisting and turning its way out your ears and your eyes and even–God help us–your mouth where it says exactly what it was thinking, back when it was just a seed in a case in the dark in the part of your heart where you were most hurting.

And believe me, these words are a scandal. They are deceptively simple. So simple, you could miss the click before the explosion goes off, before you understand really, that everything must change if this thing is even half true.

“You have everything you need.”
“You are not alone.”
“No one belongs here more than you.”

By the time you speak them, you will forget about hope or the seed or the flash when you first wondered if it could be true. By then, you will have an actual living thing to tend to, a living thing that looks nothing like when it started–a little bit of nothing in your hands. With this living thing–this Hope made manifest–you will have a place to rest, a place to stand, a view from which to see the world, a blossom of goodness to inhale, a bit of fruit to nourish you, a site to behold from a far off land. From the shoots of this living thing, you will plant again and again and again until your life is a field of possibility, until your land is a garden of Hope where any lost traveler can come.

For something to eat.
Or a seed.
Or a story.
Or a place to be convinced,
the best is yet to come.

Thanks, Jen! We can’t wait to see the photographs you come back with. Anyone who knows you knows they will be filled with inspiration for the rest of us.

Photo courtesy of Tracey Clark of Shutter Sisters


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2 Responses to “Mothers of Intention — The Meaning of Hope, by Jen Lemen”

  1. Katherine Says:

    What a terrific essay. I’ve been wondering if my persistent hope is a sad delusion or a good thing. I like the idea that relentless optimism can survive, even in this world.

  2. annie Says:

    Hope was a constant companion for me during my first marriage. It was about all I had left for several years and I clung to it like a static ridden skirt around the thighs. It is a good thing but it requires faith and not a little bit of trust.

    Nice article.


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