Jim Carey has been repeatedly quoted as saying, “And why not take a chance on faith, as well. Not religion, but faith. Not hope, but faith. I don’t believe in hope. Hope is a beggar. Hope walks through the fire and faith leaps over it.” While I agree with the essence of Carey’s words, I take some semantic umbrage with his personification of hope as a beggar.
Some background: you see my faith – specifically in the overall potential of mankind – has always been…well…let’s just say – less than zealous. I often imagined that a day would come when we humans would have a destructive hand in some event that would serve to hasten the demise of our entire species. War, environmental contamination, widespread viral contagion; you know, something super sci-fi nifty and definitively annihilating like that. The long philosophical debate over humanity’s innate goodness or badness would finally be moot, and we would pass the torch of planetary stewardship on to a far kinder and more capable genus. Perhaps I would cast my dying vote for the dolphins – unless of course we had done something to take them down with us.
Be that as it may, that was my outlook – before fatherhood. I was an HIV-positive, post-apocalyptic junkie who wondered if I might just live long enough to see the actual End of Days. On television I watched Six Feet Under, later The Walking Dead, and longed for more episodes of the documentary series, Life after People. I bristled and then scoffed at the mere mention of Jesus, and kept a copy of God is Not Great on my nightstand for bedtime, pleasure reading. Basically I looked at the world around me as if it were a huge cosmic experiment gone horribly wrong. And maintaining an emotional and spiritual detachment was easy for me, because my investment in the success or failure of the study was not very highly personal. Other than a few bleakly themed plays that I had written; a television pilot that I was peddling about the country’s first legally sanctioned euthanasia clinic; and a small collection of Green Bay Packers’ ball caps, I was not personally leaving behind anything of great importance.
Then came Hudson. You see, I had long thought that my ability to be a dad – much less a biological father – was nothing more than an impossible dream; an unheard prayer long-ignored in the ether of a quickly decaying world. Well, as it turned out, the crumbling cosmos had something tucked up its tricky sleeve – big time. It delivered to me an out and out miracle. A child. My child.
The very moment that my son was born, my entire paradigm was upended. An unfamiliar new infection invaded every emo cell in my HIV-positive, outlook-negative body. It was exhilarating. Holding that squalling, purple ball of innocence -- a life that I had helped create -- I felt the inescapable rush of unrestrained optimism. I was overrun with Hope. Don’t misunderstand. This virulent and pollyannaish new intruder did not immediately eradicate the residing darkness in its new host. No, rather it moved in right along with it. It took up residence on the conspicuously vacant sunny side of the street and began to challenge its austere and nasty neighbor at every turn.
So then, back to the words of Jim Carey – yes, I agree in part. Of hope and faith, it is faith that holds the higher ground. And I expect someday that I will be standing wholly in league with the sincerely faithful – especially in relation to my outlook for the future of our children’s race. I would, however, not mistakenly characterize hope as a beggar – even one who can walk through fire. No, because I feel that hope is sometimes the very thing that makes faith possible. It is often the precursor, or the emissary of faith. I would therefore most certainly and more rightly cast hope as something far more powerful than a beggar. For example, I would be happier with Carey’s quote rewritten as follows, “And when you are ready, why not take a chance on faith. Not religion, but faith. And until you’re ready for faith, do not discount hope. Hope is a warrior. Hope marches through the fire until you find the faith to rise above it.”
Indeed, for me the gifts of fatherhood have been priceless and many. But above them all, I most cherish the ever-strengthening gift of hope. It is because my child looks to me – that I must look anew at the world in which we both now live. When I decided to become a father I had no choice but to reinvest in the outcome of it all. Suddenly everything began to matter in a way that it never had before: the water from our faucets, the homeless on our street corners, the victims in our world. Our world. Now I have to try and believe that humans will prevail in spite of themselves. I must, because someday I will have no choice but to leave my child in their care. I must have hope. Unless of course my son miraculously sprouts fins and grows a blowhole – in which case I may still suggest he goes with the dolphins.