Ally is a writer, thinker, dreamer, and the managing editor of Prodigal Magazine, an online platform for storytellers. She is passionate about helping people live and tell good stories. She is from Portland, Oregon but lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband. She’s also the author of a brand new book called Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage.
Some days its hard to keep hoping, hard to keep working, hard to keep walking toward a “dream” when you’ve hoped and hoped and hoped for something and it hasn’t happened.
Or maybe its just me.
Sometimes I can dream up something big, put everything on the line to make it happen, give it my whole heart, and my hope comes to fruition. I’m learning to practice gratitude for even the littlest ways this plays out, and seeing how a change in perspective can shift my whole reality.
But there’s a delicate line I walk, too. Because hope is not like pixie dust.
It doesn’t make things appear out of nowhere. It isn’t a magic potion. I can’t use it to engineer circumstances or coerce people to turn out how I want.
That’s not hope. That’s manipulation.
Hope is hard, back-breaking work.
It’s really hard to keep hoping. Some days I feel ready to do it, to keep showing up even when things don’t turn out how I plan, to stay faithful to my commitments even when I don’t see the fruit of my labor.
Other days I’m tired, or selfish, or I allow myself to collapse into the fear that my hard work isn’t ever going to pay off.
In those moments, I feel like quitting. Not now. I think to myself. I’m tired of hoping.
What am I supposed to do when I want to keep hoping, but can’t?
Two years ago I ran a marathon with my sister. I was fairly new to running at the time, so I followed a training plan religiously.
In fact, I met my husband while I was training, and flew to Minneapolis to meet him for the first time, but my one condition for the trip was this: I had to find times and places to keep training.
That’s how much it mattered to me.
Race day came, and I was determined to start and finish without stopping, despite the hangups I’d encountered in my training. It turned out to be harder than I thought to train and travel at the same time, and I developed a Staph infection a few weeks before the race.
But this was something I had wanted to do for too long, and I was confident we would make it. So I kept hoping.
For the first six miles of the race, I was having fun.
In fact, I was the eternal optimist, feeling like nothing could possibly stop us now, talking and catching up with my sister and explaining the strategies we should employ when we were tired later on. We ran and ran and ran.
Twelve miles into the race I still felt pretty good. My family showed up on the sidelines, and we waved, they cheered.
We can totally do this, I thought to myself.
At eighteen miles we ran up a huge hill, which looked daunting from the bottom, but we coached each other up, reminding ourselves to take one step at a time.
At the top, we celebrated our accomplishment, but physically, I was running out of steam.
My legs were starting to cramp, and I was tired and out of breath. It was getting hard to keep hoping.
At mile twenty, a dear friend met us and jumped in the race with us for about few minutes.
She was all fresh-faced and happy and telling us how amazing we were and that we were doing great. I think I managed to grunt at her, but I can’t remember. We kept running, and running, and running.
At twenty-one miles, things got worse. My legs were cramping so bad now it was hard to keep moving. A fellow-runner noticed my struggle and gifted me a salt pack.
“This will help!” She promised, as she sped past us.
My sister encouraged me to take slow, steady breaths.
We ran, and ran, and ran.
Finally, at about mile twenty-five, when the salt had kicked in, and I could practically see the finish (in my mind), hope came back. We can do this. I told myself again. But a look of fear had fallen over my sister’s face.
And for the last few minutes, until we rounded the corner and could see the thick parade of people lining the sidelines, until we could count on the whites of their eyes and the enthusiasm of their cheers to would carry us across the finish —
I repeated to my sister the same words she had said to me a few miles back.
Take deep breaths…
You’ve got this…
One step at a time…
Sometimes I wonder if hope is like this — a group effort.
Hoping is hard, too hard for us to do alone. And if we’re going to keep hoping, in the face of cramping muscles and hills and shortness of breath and believing we don’t have what it takes, I wonder if sometimes, we need people who jump in the race with us.
We need them to tell us to take one step at a time.
To remind us how far we’ve come, and that none of this is a waste.
To act as a sign that the finish is just around the corner.