We want to make a connection between a renewed sense of calling and a renewed sense of hope. One of the most common—and most tragic—complaints of people in the second half of life is that they've "lost hope." This is quite understandable. When we feel alienated from our stories or our sense of place or, most importantly, a feeling of passion about what we're doing, it's not surprising that we would feel somewhat hopeless.
But what is hope? The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as "A wish or desire accompanied by confident expectation of its fulfillment." So, there are two elements: the wish and the expectation.
To wish for something is to aspire to it. Aspire comes from the Latin root meaning "breathe," which is also connected to the word for spirit. The breath, in many theological traditions, is intimately a part of spirit. Prana, for instance, the life force in the Hindu tradition, is synonymous with the breath. Or chi, in Chinese theology and medicine, also has its source in the breath. For that matter, the Holy Spirit in Christianity is often associated with the breath.
To hope, then, is in a very real manner of speaking, to breathe. We all know, for instance, that when we're scared or anxious or depressed—when we lose hope—how difficult it is to get air into our lungs. And we know that one of the most effective ways to begin to re-center ourselves and overcome our fear, is to refocus upon and recover our breathing.
We can say, then, that keeping hope alive means to keep our breath alive. To hope is to breathe with the confident expectation of our ongoing fulfillment, to aspire for something better, to keep wishing that our all dreams will come true.
So how is this done in the second half of life? How do we keep hope alive when so much of what we have always hoped for—success at work, increased monetary rewards, improved health—may not be available to us?
The answer, we think, is somewhat paradoxical. Normally, we think of hope as a forward-looking emotion—and it is. But here, we want to conceive of the forward-looking as a kind of backward-looking, too.
What we mean by this is that our hope is not just for tomorrow but is also a kind of hope for the past. It is a hope for our own past—that the past we have lived has had a meaning, has been for something, that we have made a difference in someone's life, not just our own.
Keeping this hope for the past alive involves taking stock of our life and the choices we've made in it. It means looking back over what we've done and thinking about how we've gotten where we are and why. This doesn't mean we should over-analyze and get bogged down in regret—for none of us has lived a life that couldn't be better—rather, it means we need to reflect upon our choices in a manner that allows us to put them in perspective. We have to take into account the circumstances under which we made those choices in the first place. So, for instance, even though we may wish that "we knew then what we know now," it's incumbent upon us to realize that this just wasn't the case: We did the best we could with the information we had. We can't change the past.
What we can do, however, is change the future based on the past. And in this way, keep hope for tomorrow—and for yesterday, as well—alive.
The key to hope is having something to look forward to. And what's key to that is doing something that will potentially bear fruit in the future. It's not enough to merely have some outcome or event to anticipate; hope is not particularly inspired simply by looking forward to the release of the next Harry Potter book or Superbowl XLIII. Rather, hope is stimulated when the outcome or event we anticipate is something we've contributed to. And it doesn't have to be something great or earth-shattering; planting a vegetable garden will do.
That said, hope is most powerfully stimulated by taking part in something that will bear fruit in the lives of others. Sowing a vegetable garden is good; sowing a human garden is even better.
Ask yourself: What am I hoping for? And which of these hopes involve me more directly in the lives of others? The outcomes whose success you contribute to are those that offer you the greatest potential for keeping the fire of hope burning most brightly—and in this way, reignite your passion for the second half of your life.