HOPE: A Four-Letter Word by Tim Olsen – Clinical Care Consultants Arlington Heights and Inverness, Illinois

HOPE: A Four-Letter Word

by

Tim Olsen, MA, LPC

 

While out on a run recently – tunes blasting in my ears, my aging muscles screaming for me to stop, the heat and humidity of the Chicago summer draining the life from me, one drop of sweat at a time – I heard a phrase through the earbuds, as if sent straight from the running gods, that resonated with me distracting me from the exhaustion for a moment…

“HOPE is a four-letter word”

I can’t tell you what that phrase meant to the lyricist, but I can tell you what it meant to me… “what the @#!&%!!”

What word do I say when I look up to see a big hill in front of me…

What word do I say when my mug full of coffee slips off the top of the stack of things I’m balancing it upon as I rush out the door late for my meeting…

What word do I say when my favorite player strikes out in the late innings of an important game in which my team trails – oh yeah, with the bases loaded…

What word do I say when the person I love reveals betrayal to me, or worse, when I see an unknown number on their phone with a racy pic in the message…

What word do I say when I wake up, still depressed, facing the same cloud that will follow me throughout the day…

It’s not HOPE, but it might as well be.  In all honesty (don’t tell my angelic mom), another four-letter word that ends in ‘uck’, ‘it’, or ‘ammit’ usually rolls off my tongue.  Maybe it’s just me, but I use profane four-letter words when there is nothing else to say.  I’m not that guy that cusses as a comma, but sometimes a four-letter word is the only thing that expresses what I mean strongly enough.  In those moments, I am not only giving voice to my emotions, I am expressing a need for help.  Sure, it’s not conscious sometimes, but as I verbally or mentally vomit an expletive, it is often an expression of my lack of ability to accomplish or experience or falling short of what I want or expect.  Maybe I should say HOPE.

Saying HOPE can help.  But wait, even as I write this, something inside me dukes it out…

In this corner: standing on the shoulders of countless examples of men and women greater than me, weighing in at 100 pounds and head-knowledge ~ I am certain I’m right to have HOPE…

And in this corner: standing tall enough to cast a long shadow over my circumstance, weighing in at 100 pounds and most-of-the-time ~ shut-the-@#!&%-up-and-be-depressed…

Why is HOPE so hard to hold onto?  Why does HOPE seem unrealistic?  Because sometimes it is still a four-letter word to me; I might as well say it when I stub my toe.

If you are like me, maybe HOPE has become Christian-slang, empty and untenable.  Instead of drawing my mind to the possible, it was perverted; a vilification of beauty replaced with unicorns and Santa Claus…

When I think of what HOPE means, I should be encouraged.  It means there is an open window or another cracked door somewhere if I just look for it… It means there is a hand reaching out to support me if I just open my clenched eyes to see it… It means that I am not alone as I trudge through, that the shoreline is closer than I think as I drift, that in the storm the rocks will be lit and visible, that the sun will rise after a dark night, that my favorite player has a 33% chance of driving in the game winning run…

I believe my training as a counselor, and the time spent as a support to those who reach for it, has helped me to retool what I believe about HOPE.  In fact, not only have I eliminated the word HOPE as a potty-mouth expletive, I have begun to replace some of the other sharp words with a whisper, a prayer, for the possible…

When I drop my coffee I still may drop an “s-bomb” (sorry mom) …

But, when I feel real pain, the kind that opens as a black hole under me, or takes my breath away with one gut punch, or follows me like a cloud, I say HOPE… Every time I reach out for support – HOPE.  Every time I look back and see what accomplishments I am capable of – HOPE.  Every time I pray instead of ruminating – HOPE.

I say HOPE now, not as an expression of pessimistic pain, but as faith in what can be.

I love being a counselor.  I love that sometimes I get to hold this precious little four-letter word for others when they cannot… HOPE.

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