I think there may be a fine line between insanity and hope. At first glance, these two concepts seem to be about as far apart as … Well, as two concepts can be. And yet, there’s a little bit of the raving lunatic inside all of us that convinces us to cling to hope. Madly, stubbornly, we grasp at it with clutching fingers, clinging to it by the very tips of our nails and with our last fraying nerve, if need be. After all, isn’t there a popular saying out there that defines insanity as “repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results”? But hope can be like that sometimes, too. We know someone we love will react negatively or say hurtful things when we share something new and exciting in our life — something that causes us such joy that it’s almost painful not to share it. Do we keep our joy a secret, knowing what we do? Or do we share it, anyhow, hoping that this time will be different. This time, we will find the love and support we’re seeking.
Somewhere — in some deep, dark, partially hidden place down inside of us, I suppose — we know it’ll never work. The response will be the same. It always has been, and, on some level, we know it always will be. And yet … And yet, there’s that teeny, tiny speck of hope. Maybe things will be different this time. Maybe this will be the time when she smiles, instead of looking hurt or disappointed. Maybe this will be the time he says he’s proud of you, instead of pointing out all the little ways in which you could have done better. It’s that little speck that keeps us coming back, time after time.
So, when does hope stop being a good thing? Is there a point at which exuberant optimism slides into the depths of raving insanity?
There is a rose bush that grows at the side of my house. I have no idea how old she is, but I presume she’s fairly old, as roses go. She was there when we bought the house. To use the word “bush” to describe her seems a bit ridiculous, as this plant is spindly and unattractive. In her defense, she hasn’t had the easiest time of it. She is planted in the shade of the house, so that she has lived most of her life in shadow, instead of the sun she must crave. No one, before we moved in, ever bothered to care for her. She was never trimmed back; her spent blooms were never deadheaded off during the growing season. No one fed her or removed the bugs and mold from her leaves. Even so, she continued on. She didn’t thrive, but she survived. Against all the odds.
When we moved in, I was dismayed to find that little rose bush, mostly buried beneath tall weeds and an overly bushy White Cedar Tree. I thought there was no hope for her, but I cleaned out her bed. I trimmed back the tree. Over the objections of different family members, who felt it was a waste of time and effort, I fertilized her and cleaned off the few pitiful leaves on her branches. I trimmed her back, working carefully because there wasn’t much space for new growth to occur.
That first year, not much happened, except my little rose bush lost all of her leaves. And I thought, for sure, it was a sign. I had been too late. The second year, she managed to regrow a few leaves. And a few new branches appeared. The third year, she produced a flower.
I know — one flower doesn’t seem like anything to be excited about. But this bloom … I’m not sure how to describe it. In a word, it was incredible. It was one of the most beautiful, most perfect roses I had ever seen. Pale pink, with layers and layers of delicately frilled petals, and nearly as large as the palm of my hand. It took me by surprise and took my breath away. It was so beautiful that I thought, surely, this was my little rose bush’s last gasp of life. Maybe putting all of her energy into this perfect bloom was her way of saying “thank you”. I thought this even more when the bloom died and, shortly after I trimmed it away, all of my plant’s leaves fell off. But, when the bloom returned the next year, I realized something. This is what hope is: that one delicate, fragile thing that keeps you going … that makes you keep on trying, even if it seems impossible.
To this day, my little rose bush is pretty pathetic. She is the rose equivalent of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. She is spindly and lacking in leaves. Really, she resembles nothing more than a jumble of sticks jutting out from the ground at odd angles. Nearly everyone who sees her tells me to give up. They say I should pull that rose bush out, once and for all, so I can finally plant something “pretty”. And, truthfully, I think about it. I think about it every year, even as I trim her back and check her few leaves for aphids and mold. Each time, I wonder if this will be the year I’ll finally do it. Will this be the year I’ll finally give up on her? Will it be the year she finally gives up on me?
But, every Spring, I hold my breath and wait. Sure enough, my little rose bush produces her one beautifully perfect bloom. I smile as I trim it away, trying to thank her with the gentlest of touches, hoping she can feel my joy and love. I take that bloom into my house so that I can cherish it — this perfect, amazing gift of love and hope. And I know: It’s not time to give up. Not just yet.