Have you ever seen a dog waiting for their master at a window — their wet nose pressed against the glass, eyes watching the street expectantly for any sign of their beloved guardian? It’s sort of sweet, right?
But what if I told you their guardian, let’s call him Biff, was never coming home? What if Biff died, or maybe he’s on a bender, or he decided to do some traveling and didn’t bother sending Thunder to a kennel? Now it’s sort of heartbreaking, isn’t it?
This is what hope can do.
Hope can keep you waiting for a better situation that’s never going to arrive. It can make you profess blind loyalty to a lost cause.
Hope can prevent you from stepping into your true power.
As long as Thunder believes he’s dependent on Biff for his needs, his existence is fraught with panic and dread. He oscillates between relief that Biff brought home some kibble, and anxiety that Biff might never return. Thunder is hungry. Thunder doesn’t want to go to the bathroom on the new linoleum, but he can’t help it — and now he burns with shame that he made a mess. Perhaps he fears he’ll be punished, and maybe he even believes that he deserves this mistreatment. We all know it isn’t Thunder’s fault — but tell that to Thunder.
Notice how, in our attempts to get our needs met, we compromise ourselves, accept mistreatment, and sometimes even mistreat others. When we’re in survival mode we become disconnected from ourselves. Perhaps we’ve been living like this for so long that we no longer have a frame of reference for who we truly are.
Do you see how hope can lead to denial? And yet, without hope, where would we be? What if Thunder did make a run for it? What if he was a 150-pound Rottweiler and he leapt through the plate glass window and bolted? Now he’s got a whole new problem. He’s hungry, lonely, and scared, he doesn’t know if he can make it out there in the big bad world. And what if his bid for survival caused him to miss Biff’s return by just a few minutes?
Is hope a stepping-stone or a dead end?
Do you see the dilemma? And how do we differentiate? If Thunder leaves, he could perish, but if he stays…well, he could also perish — or worse, live out the rest of his days dependent on Biff, and his spirit could die!
There comes a point in your life where the pain of staying in a lousy situation becomes greater than the fear of leaving it. And so, Thunder crashes through the window, sending shards everywhere (that bastard Biff never sprang for a doggy door!) and now he’s bleeding and hungry and he arrives at this place, some brick walled alley in a bad neighborhood filled with piles of rotting garbage. It’s humid, flies are buzzing, his stomach is empty and he‘s suddenly aware of how woefully ill-equipped he is to engineer his liberation. He wonders if he’s made a terrible mistake, but now he can’t return because when Biff sees the broken window, that’ll be it. Remember, Biff is bad news.
This is Thunder’s dark night of the soul.
But then, something happens. Someone enters the alley. And what does Thunder do? He bares his teeth and growls, ready to attack. He could destroy this person in a matter of seconds, but then where would he be? This person reaches out their hand. “Well, hello there,” says Sally. And it is in this moment, that Thunder faces his destiny. He can attack, or he can surrender the fight. (Remember, surrender doesn’t mean giving up – it means letting go of our old way of seeing things.)
Choice gives your protagonist freedom.
Do you see how Thunder will never go back to the ways things were? In being willing to lose everything, he has choices that were previously unavailable to him. And this is the gift for your protagonist. This is the miracle. Thunder could tear anyone apart if he wanted to, (don’t we all have access to murderous rage as a last resort?) but the larger question, the more difficult question is, “How can I trust, when I have no frame of reference that I can count on anyone?” And the answer is that it comes from within.
Thunder’s miracle is simply this: he realizes he has a choice. He’s willing to trust because he now knows that if it doesn’t work out with Sally, he can leave. By virtue of having nothing to lose, he has stepped into his true power.
Do you see where the true power lives in your story?
Is your protagonist beginning to glimpse that there is a different way of seeing themselves and the world? Do you see how your protagonist doesn’t even need to leave their situation? They just need to be willing to leave, to recognize that they have a choice.
This doesn’t mean the choices are great, at least, not initially, but simply that there is one, and that it can lead to a new way of being. Do you see how, in spite of beginning victimized, your protagonist is no longer defined by their setbacks? Your protagonist is not letting go of their past — that’s impossible — they’re letting go of the meaning they made out of it.
What if the rest of the world isn’t Biff?
It was never Thunder’s job to make Biff a capable guardian. Instead, it was his job to accept the reality of his situation and leave. This is your protagonist’s moment of clarity. And while their situation hasn’t changed, they see it in a new way. They are no longer defined by their failure to achieve that which was impossible to achieve based on their current approach.
Abandoning hope introduces your protagonist to their true self.
Abandoning hope is the pathway to authenticity and freedom.