She’s trying to touch the light, I thought.
Promptly, a surge of something welled up in me. It felt a lot like endearment, and a lot like envy at the same time. I remember trying to touch light when I was a child. I remember trying to fly off the porch steps. I remember living in a world whose laws and rules did not seem set in stone yet. Above all, I remember having hope—hope that always came easily and infused tiny moments with itself, making them magical and sacred with no contrivance on my part. It was the kind of hope that informed me, when I saw a bird in flight, that I too could fly—maybe. The kind of hope that causes you, when you see light, to reach out and touch it. Some would call such hopes futile and misguided—no one can really fly like a bird and light can’t really be touched.
But as I watched my friend’s daughter, I desperately missed that kind of childlike hope. I missed that simple way of expecting good things from life—whether it’s a ray of sunlight or scent of a flower--the sense that there was some kind, tiny mystery to be encountered in the plainest of moments. The alternative, adult realism, too often teaches me to be suspicious of every moment and what lies beyond them. There are rules to explain everything (light is not matter and therefore cannot be touched), rules to explain how to act in public (light-touching is not socially acceptable). More than this, though, adulthood seems governed by the notion that mysteries don’t really exist and if they do, they aren’t good—they need to be unraveled and conquered as soon as possible. To have unwarranted hope—whether it is in flying like a bird or in the goodness of your fellow man, not to mention God—is frowned upon. It’s too risky, too foolish.
The truth is, though, that blind cynicism is as risky as blind hope. It shuts us down inside, closes us off from life. I am not suggesting we all walk around with our hands stuck in the sunlight all our lives, but if we did, it might just open us--as it does children--to life in all its goodness and possibilities, real and imagined.
I wondered, watching this little girl play with light, why we grow out of hope. In that moment, it seemed so unfair to me. This little girl can have this unbuoyed, flagrant, almost embarrassing naiveté in her approach to ordinary facets of everyday life—sunlight streaming through a window—and she doesn’t even have to try. Meanwhile, I thought, here I am, reminding myself every day not to habitually mistrust people, to try and believe that the wisps of goodness streaming by me in this life do exist—even if I can’t always touch, see, smell, taste or post them on Pinterest (the gold standard of reality). Hope, nowadays, is so high maintenance. It isn’t the easygoing, carefree faith children—it’s the arduous task of reclaiming the wilderness, cultivating courage and love and trust from the endless backwoods of pessimism. It’s a battle, and sometimes it’s a burden and sometimes your hopes get dashed all over again.
And maybe that's the point. Maybe that challenge, that cross, is the pinnacle of hope, not its demise.