You Can’t Give People Hope…

PeopleI am a person of eternal hope. So, I am always saddened by those who have little hope or have lost it altogether. I have witnessed it way too often in my neighborhood of North Lawndale and all too often among those who are young and should have every opportunity to hope and dream about a future for themselves.

I came across this reflection just the other day, written by a woman of color in a poor neighborhood. It’s very sad and carries a sad truth lived by many in poor communities of color and in some blighted white communities as well.

“I make a lot of poor financial decisions. None of them matter, in the long term. I will never not be poor, so what does it matter if I don’t pay a thing and a half this week instead of just one thing? It’s not like the sacrifice will result in improved circumstances; the thing holding me back isn’t that I blow five bucks at Wendy’s. It’s that now that I have proven that I am a Poor Person that is all that I am or ever will be. It is not worth it to me to live a bleak life devoid of small pleasures so that one day I can make a single large purchase. I will never have large pleasures to hold on to. There’s a certain pull to live what bits of life you can while there’s money in your pocket, because no matter how responsible you are you will be broke in three days anyway.

When you never have enough money it ceases to have meaning. I imagine having a lot of it is the same thing.
Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain. It’s why you see people with four different baby daddies instead of one. You grab a bit of connection wherever you can to survive. You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It’s more basic than food. You go to these people who make you feel lovely for an hour that one time, and that’s all you get. You’re probably not compatible with them for anything long-term, but right this minute they can make you feel powerful and valuable. It does not matter what will happen in a month. Whatever happens in a month is probably going to be just about as indifferent as whatever happened today or last week. None of it matters. We don’t plan long-term because if we do we’ll just get our hearts broken. It’s best not to hope. You just take what you can get as you spot it.” “Why I Make Terrible Decisions,” a comment published on Gawker’s Kinja platform by a person in poverty.

I am a person of eternal hope. I have said, over and over again, in the face of some significant challenges and setbacks in my life, that I will never ever lose hope. Keep in mind that hope is not the same as optimism. With optimism, you can see signs of progress, signs of a better tomorrow. Hope is different. It is a virtue. It is not a byproduct of something that you do or that happens to you. It is something that develops and grows over time as we hold fast to the pursuit of our dreams and the living of our faith that there is something greater (always) to come. We may be optimistic about something that has happened that affects us or another, but we live into hope. It is like the virtue of joy, which is not the same as happiness, a byproduct of something we do or have done for us. We pursue happiness; we live into joy.

I have had many a conversation with well-meaning people that somehow we (who are not as bad off and hopeless as ‘they’ are) need to give them hope. But the reality is that we can’t give people hope… what we can do is accompany and encourage them with our own emotional, spiritual and material support buoyed by our own hope. This requires of us the gift of accompaniment, the willingness to give the time, attention, listening ear, compassionate support and the ability to empower those who have little or no hope to claim and create a better life for themselves and their loved ones. It is being willing to work side-by-side with them to move together into a series of better tomorrows. It is accompanying them through the hardships of life created by racism and poverty and its many debilitating manifestations, and celebrating the little and big successes along the way.

I am thankful for our Restorative Justice outreach here at St. Agatha, for our News School Program and Winslow Redmond Computer Tech Lab, for our M.U.S.I.C., Inc., Techgyrls, S.A.F.E./ Blessed Sacrament Youth Center and READI partnerships. I am thankful to my parishioners and other westsiders for working to establish a new free mental health outreach established and overseen by community members, some with professional mental health backgrounds and some who can witness to the power of mental health counseling in their lives. All of the people who run these programs fortify me in my hope and deepen my own resolve to accompany those who deserve the basic right to dream and have hope that life can be a lot better.

Written by:Fr. Larry Dowling, Pastor, St. Agatha

Featured Image and Top Image Courtesy of Scoot Grummer Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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