To hope is to gamble. It’s to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty are better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk.
Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark
We finished the backcountry portion of our journey. Our packs sit in the corner of our room. No quick trip to the grocery store to resupply or the Laundromat to clean our camping clothes this time. We have permanently switched back to our “town clothes.”
Friends keep asking me, “What next?”
I try to provide an answer even though I keep asking myself the same thing.
“What next?” is not the only question looping through my head. What have I learned? Have we accomplished what we set out to do? What did we set out to do? Did I find hope?
Hope . . . Last summer as oil flowed into the Gulf, drowning pelicans, smothering fish, and poisoning plankton, I joined a handful of exasperated citizens on a small patch of lawn near the Capitol for a rally. Microphones almost outnumbered attendants. The pitifully small gathering amplified my feeling of despair. After I left the event, a line from one of the speeches kept echoing in my head. “Hope is an action not an emotion.” I liked the sound of the phrase, so I began using it in essays and editorials as I planned our pilgrimage. But, secretly, I questioned its wisdom. If hope is an action, how do you “do” hope?
Turns out, the rabbi who spoke those words is not the only person who believes in a connection between hope and action. In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. described hewing a stone of hope from the mountain of despair. Vaclav Havel, playright and former president of Czechoslovakia, described hope as “an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.” Echoing the theme of action, Rebecca Solnit concluded that hope “should shove you out the door” because it means that “another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed.” To summarize these great thinkers, hope involves change, risks failure, and promises no certain outcome. Perhaps that is why hope feels scary.
Ever since something—either a mountain of despair or a buried stone of hope—shoved me out the door and onto the trail, I have felt scared. Climate change is such a threatening concept that it’s best not to bring it up in polite company. As Ryan and I prepared to radically alter our lives in order to spark public conversations about climate change, even our family members avoided the topic. Throughout this journey, fear has been a constant companion. Not the paralyzing fear of doom and gloom, but the invigorating fear that warns of a risk and inspires a creative response. Every time I initiate a conversation about addressing climate change, or explain to someone why we are walking 350 miles through Utah, I feel like I am standing at the top of a high dive knowing that I am about to intentionally leave the ground behind. I am afraid of the consequences of speaking publicly about such a polarizing issue. I wonder if this public pilgrimage will make me less employable. I worry that friends will think I have gone off the deep end. In the midst of these fears, I feel alive.
As I look back over our journey, I do not think that I “found” hope. But, I did learn to gamble. I bet on “the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty are better than gloom and safety”—and that might just be one way to “do” hope.