Friday, February 8, 2013

Disappointment, Deception, and Despair

Ha!  Got your attention, didn't I?  But don't worry--this is not as dark as the title makes it out to be.  (Truthfully, I have been a little bit heartsick lately, albeit nothing too serious, as I'm functioning at nearly 100% and I can put on a brave face most of the time.  I find it's hard to indulge in too much self-pity while in my current job, where I find out students have been abused, work 40 hours a week + attending high school full-time, have serious health problems [I just found out one has MS--words fail me, so I won't even try], and are routinely fighting the depression and alienation that are incidental to relocating to a foreign country, school culture, and language.  Who am I kidding with my minuscule problems?  In any case, I know myself well enough to recognize that I'll likely always find something to be angsty about--it's one of my neuroses).

Back to the topic of the title--I was thinking about disappointment today and ruminating on its causes.  Remember childhood?  It seemed rife with disappointment, perhaps because imagination was so limitless.  I remember being utterly disappointed when I saw a photograph of the Beatles.  I'd heard my stepfather rave about them, but then I discovered this black and white photo (remember how disappointing black and white always seemed--in photos, movies, whatever?) and I was shocked at the utter banality of these four totally normal-looking guys.  They weren't even dressed as beetles or anything!  There were lots of little moments like that, and disappointment is unpleasant and even sometimes painful.  At some point, the soar of anticipation and the likely ensuing dip in mood became too much, and like most adults, I gave way to checking my expectations.  I was recently thinking about the French word for disappointment, which is actually déception--a fittingly misleading false cognate--and how disappointment indeed invokes some kind of deception, be it self-inflicted, inadvertent, or intentional.  So perhaps tempering one's expectations is not necessarily a sign of jaded bitterness, but an antidote to the deception of false hope?

And so I thought, perhaps I'm the smart one here, intentionally blunting my hopes.  I'm reminded of Emily Dickinson's " 'Hope' is the thing with feathers", which besides touting the hardiness of hope, is still ambiguous to me--hope as a "thing with feathers" strikes me as somewhat sinister, even as something that can "keep so many warm."  But if the opposite of hope is despair (French proves useful again, as the opposition in the two terms is obvious with "hope"--espoir-- and "dispair" --désespoir [I encountered this second term for the first time in this sculpture--now I'm indulging in a moment of nostalgia as I recall my trip to France as a sheltered nineteen-year-old---the experience was one of those rare moments that was utterly undisappointing]--then perhaps quenching hope is indeed dangerous, or at least if carried out to an extreme degree.

But then, I don't think I agree with the deceptively (ha!) straightforward French etymology of those terms: despair is not the absence of hope, but the overwhelming of hope with disappointment--it is a surfeit of hope, a hope that excruciatingly and repeatedly exceeds reality, in contrast to a lack or shortage of hope, that causes despair.  I'm butchering and oversimplifying and doing all kinds of unholy and undeserved things to a complex topic, but isn't the lack of desire--or by extension hope for a state beyond the present--somewhere at the root of the serenity of Buddhism and other eastern philosophies, where it is nothing like despair, but instead a step to nirvana?

So perhaps, as I talk myself through this, the solution for my current, silly, inconsequential disappointment, is to stop wishing for things to be different.  To stop hoping, in a manner of speaking, because I seek for satisfaction in the present.  I know it's no easy task--that blasted bird is hardy indeed.

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