In the Suburbs of Hope

I was invited to assist at the birth of my rabbi’s wife’s youngest child. During the birth, something went wrong and the baby was born not breathing. The next several minutes seemed like forever, as the baby failed to start breathing despite heroic measures. Finally, the doctors took the baby away and I was left alone with the stunned parents.

The head of neonatology returned three hours later to give us the assessment. It was pretty rough listening. The baby was deprived of oxygen for ten minutes and the baby was having seizures on both sides of his body. As a comfort, he offered that the baby would receive a lifetime of the best care available. The doctor reluctantly concluded, “You could always get lucky.”

As I wheeled the rabbi’s wife to her hospital room, my rabbi bent down to her and said confidently, “Don’t worry, the doctor said everything can be all right.”
“Life is about hope,” this same rabbi said to me years before, in a moment when I had argued that “facts” made a situation hopeless.

“Life is about hope,” this same rabbi said to me years before, in a moment when I had argued that “facts” made a situation hopeless. Hope is the recognition that God is all-powerful and can “beat the odds.” But seeing my rabbi actually “living” this thinking was disorienting. To me, given the facts, it seemed almost inappropriate.

Despite his encouragement, I didn’t live in the city of Hope. I visited sometimes, but I never stayed long. I circled around hope without fully committing to it. I lived in the suburbs of hope.

A year later, this baby has met most of his developmental targets. He responds when he sees me, has favorite songs, walks assisted by just one hand, and has a dear smile which charms everyone who sees him. He\’s exceeded expectations, and every new accomplishment is celebrated, as if no baby ever crossed a carpet or put blocks in a bucket.

The difference between my rabbi and me is that even at the scariest moment, he had sincerely hoped for this positive outcome. At the same moment, I had “faced the facts,” and headed back out to the suburbs of hope, where phrases like “God willing” and “I hope so\” mask overwhelming doubt that any good outcome is truly possible.

I recently flew to another city and had lunch with a man who someone in a third city thought I should meet on a date. We became so engaged in the conversation that when he checked his watch for the first time, there was barely time for me to make my flight. As he walked me out to the car, he said, “Thank you for coming 3000 miles to have lunch with me. Now it\’s my turn to come see you.” As my car backed up, he stood motionless in the falling snow, watching me pull away. Flying home, I wept for five and a half hours, from takeoff to landing.

“What were the tears about?” my friends have asked me. Even at the time, I knew. A major shift occurred at the end of that lunch in the snowstorm as I pulled away. I abandoned the statistics, the geographical long distance between us, the unlikelihood of finding “Mr. Right” in this fashion. I looked out ahead and saw every happy thing I’d ever hoped for taking shape. Okay, maybe not with this particular man, or at this particular time, but with some man, at some time, and sometime soon.

Somehow, in his gaze in the falling snow, I left behind my own uncertainties — or more accurately, my certain hopelessness clothed in the pretense of cheerfulness. That afternoon, I left the suburbs behind and moved into hope.

I’m a new resident here. I’m a more comfortable fit in the suburbs, after years describing pointless dates to securely married friends. I sometimes slip back into suburban thinking. But I can’t go back. I’ve torn up my stakes in the suburbs and I’m setting up my tent right smack in the center of hope. Everything can be all right, after all. No, everything can be wonderful.

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