Hope

My wife and I
were to make
the hour-long trip
to see Dad yesterday.
A snow storm
had other plans.
I called Dad to tell him
we weren’t coming.
“Are you sure you can’t make it?” he asked.
I started to explain about
the strong winds and drifting snow.
Then I heard him chuckling.
“Son, I was kidding you,” he said.
“You stay off those roads today.”
It felt good to receive his humor,
which I wasn’t expecting.
Before hanging up I joked back.
“Better fire up your snow blower
to make sure it’s ready for winter.
That’s a big parking lot you have
at your assisted care facility.”
Dad had always kept all his engines
ready for the upcoming seasons.
He chuckled again.
“Probably not.
I believe those days are behind me.”
And he spoke those words
not with regret or disappointment,
but with quiet acceptance,
if not a certain contentment.
Those had been good days for him.
Now these days, despite their restrictions,
are good in a different way.

A piece in The New York Times last week
reported on research led by Dr. Peter Ubel,
a physician at the University of Michigan.
What helps people acclimate themselves
to unwanted changes, to life’s adversities?
Interestingly, people who cling to hope
may experience less life satisfaction afterward.
Why would that be?
It relates to whether we see such a change
as temporary or permanent.
As Dr. Ubel explains,
“If your condition is temporary, you’re thinking,
‘I can’t wait until I get rid of this.'”
Ubel believes such thinking keeps one
from moving on with life
and focusing on the good that remains.

I believe that once Dad let go
of hoping he’d return to his former abilities,
he could begin to settle in
with what life now holds for him.
He has an acceptance and peacefulness
I didn’t understand at first.
But Dr. Ubel’s findings make sense
in light of what I see in Dad.
I’m a firm believer in hope,
but I’m also aware that
hope has its legitimate limits.
In some cases reigning in one’s hope
can lead to greater happiness,
as contradictory as that may seem.

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