13. Hope

The unspent part of life is everyone’s secret treasure. There is no person who would be indifferent to it. The most common attitude towards one’s own future is hope.

The ability to hope is, in other words, the ability to act contrary to common sense. He who hopes sees the future where there is none; he finds air where there is no support for wings; he expects light in the deep night. He is not embarrassed by the sorrows of the present: the future will pay all the bills.

His actions can be regarded in different ways. From the point of view of reason, in hope manifests either stupidity, or madness, or youth… The feeling of youth — not only a sense of novelty and the unknown, but also a dormant force for which every path is a desirable path, every obstacle is a joyful test. Youth stands alone with the strong and joyful beast of its soul, and blessed is he whom the breath of this beast does not leave in time…

Youth leaves us, but hope remains. It assumes that causality is not omnipotent: its power is undermined by freedom, that is, by luck or, ultimately, by fate (fate or the gods: hope is possible in both cases). With a conscientious, strong belief in causality — there is nothing to hope for.

Hope, as we have said, manifests itself in the neglect of the present for the sake of the future. In all circumstances, the hopeful believes that the outcome is not yet summed up, the last cards are not laid out. A person capable of hope has better discipline, better self-control, is more surely protected from inner darkness than one who knows no hope.

Christianity has imputed mental vigour, hope as a duty. But the philosophy of hope is double-edged. By keeping the soul from sinking into darkness, it shifts the inner centre of gravity to the future, making the present more or less unimportant. He who transfers all positive expectations to the future — completely devalues the present.

Speaking of hope as a duty, we are confronted with an unusual side of it. ‘I hope’ usually means: ‘I shall not think about it’ or even: ‘I shall not do anything for it’. But one also hopes for the unlikely, the quite improbable, but necessary. Hope beyond all probability is not a frivolous postponement of the question until tomorrow, but a lifting of heavy weights, a burden that only the strong can bear, and that only up to a certain limit.

One might think that he who lives in hope is avoiding the present and saving his mental strength for the future. But does he? No. Hope devours strength, does not save it. To hope beyond all probability is not the same as to wait idly. He who hopes against the obvious burns his soul’s strength mercilessly. He believes in a fracture, a break in causality, in a ‘tomorrow’ that will not be rooted in ‘yesterday’, and it may never come. Or it may come when all spiritual forces are exhausted. Then — the exhaustion of strength and despair…

However, the cheerful vivacity we are talking about cannot be called a purely Christian trait. It is peculiar to Christians of a certain place and time: rather in the West than in the East, and more in some nations than in others. In the East the same philosophy of hope has produced boundless patience… ‘Active humility’ is rather a Western phenomenon, and can be traced all the way back to Hellas:

‘What else is left? Nothing else but to be oneself: to have a special courage and opposition to fate, which in Greek is called τολμα̂ν. What remains is endurance and firm self-control; fortitude that can cheer a fallen spirit; great patience that strengthens the weak and restores freedom to the prisoner’. [1]

Active humility is characterised by complete faith in one’s own powers, despite their limitations in comparison with the forces of fate; by a calm and confident disposition of these powers in the circle of our given concerns — a personal cosmos in which man is his own creator and organiser.

The Little Prince, who every morning tidied up his planet, watered the rose, cleaned the volcanoes, is a perfect example of active humility. For the philosophy of ‘patience’ his behaviour is meaningless: life is hostile to man and will end one day; it must be bravely endured; to improve it is a vain labour; a temple and a grave are needed on earth… At the same time, hope lies at the heart of both worldviews; only in one case it motivates to action, and in the second case — to evasion from it.

‘Active humility’ differs from ‘patience’ also in its fruits. Patience is replaced by rebellion and the loss of all moral discipline… Active humility makes a person engaged in the affairs of the world more or less constantly. The person of ‘active humility’ expects more from the world; hopes that something will change even a little, but right now, under the influence of our efforts; his hopes are not postponed as far as those of the ‘patient’ person.

Active humility does not overestimate the future, does not move the inner centre of gravity into the distance, but quite appreciates the present. The future shines in his firmament, but the actively humble man does not try to bask in its rays. His place is here.

[1] Hermann Fränkel, Early Greek Poetry and Philosophy.

Timofey Sherudilo.
From the book Twilight Time.

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