How to Be Hopeful, Vol. 2

God, please make the Browns select Johnny Football and deliver us from awful quarterback play. Amen. Artwork by Ryan Cirignano

God, please make the Browns select Johnny Football and deliver us from awful quarterback play. Amen. Artwork by Ryan Cirignano

Hope is most important when it feels hopeless.

I’m sure everyone’s rock bottom looks and feels a little different. Mine came in those first weeks and months after divorce. I have never felt as uncomfortable in my own skin as I did during that time.

You lose yourself. You lose control of your mind and body. They do things involuntarily. And those things don’t feel good.

You look in the mirror but you no longer recognize the person staring back at you.

There are so many life events that send people into a tailspin. Mine was divorce. I have never known fear like that before.

How will I handle doing everything that two people used to do?

How will my son feel about me when he’s old enough to understand what happened?

How will I handle my ex-wife eventually marrying someone else?

What if I lose all my friends?

What if women won’t date me because I’m a divorced loser with a kid whose own wife wanted nothing to do with?

Even if they will, how will I ever meet them?

But here’s the scariest part: You have just spent years and years building dreams with your family. You have this idea of what five years from now will look like. There’s comfort in that. And you’re walking the walk with a partner. Someone you can count on for back up and support. Someone to give a teeny-tiny ounce of a shit about the things going on in your life.

And, poof. Gone.

All those ideas about your future are toast. Up in smoke. When you get dumped, you lose your PAST and FUTURE. I didn’t handle that very well.

I’m still coming to terms with everything.

But 13 months later, I’m learning to not focus so much on the past or the future. We spend so much time dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

Why not live in the now?

Right now is the only thing that’s real. Yesterday isn’t real. Tomorrow isn’t real. Today is real.

And right now you’re breathing. You’re thinking. You’re here. You’re a human being.

I am.

Not many things are more important than that. We’re here. Right now. We have right now.

Does Yesterday Determine Tomorrow?

I was kicking around two questions in the first post:

How much does what happened yesterday factor into what will happen tomorrow?

Is some hope—blind, unfounded hope—a dangerous thing?

The Cleveland Browns win, on average, five games every year and make me sad. My favorite football team has conditioned me to expect the worst. Does that make sense?

Does the team’s performances of yesteryear have ANY bearing whatsoever on what they might do this year or next? With new coaches and strategies and players?

Does the fact that every quarterback the team has drafted since 1999 failed to live up to expectations mean that the next quarterback they select will fail too?

Does the fact my marriage failed mean there’s no chance a second one could succeed?

Do the bad things that happened to me, you, or anyone else justify abandonment of hope? Is the sky really falling? Or is it the perfect opportunity to learn how to overcome fear so we can live life more courageously?

Is False Hope Dangerous?

You see it in the “faith healing” community sometimes where people want to rely on prayer (I am ALL for prayer—even when it comes to the NFL Draft) and ignore some of the resources available to them. People die doing that.

People die drinking purple Kool-Aid®.

People waste their lives holding on to relationships they think are on life support, but are really just corpses.

And the false hope kills you. It does. That’s why marital limbo is so hard. I think particularly for the person who really wants the marriage to last. You hope and you pray and you try and you work and you love.

Every day is an opportunity.

And then the rug gets pulled out from underneath you. The person with all the power—the person holding all the cards—seals your fate when they finally make their move and it’s not the one you’ve been hoping and praying for.

You lose your happy past. You lose your imagined happy future. And you just lost life. All that precious time.

You mourn every bit of it. All the loss. And you feel sorry for yourself, right up until you don’t anymore. Because we learned a valuable lesson about time traveling to the past or future.

Don’t.

All you and I have is right now. That’s true every day we wake up. Every second we get to breathe.

Don’t forget to breathe.

The Future

I don’t try to imagine the future much anymore. One of the biggest changes between me two years ago and me today, is that I’m so much more focused on the present.

What can I do today? What can I do right now? Is this the life I want?

And it has been so empowering to focus on the now. To concentrate on living in the moment.

Because now I’m not afraid of an uncertain future.

And now I don’t spend all my time living in the past, allowing the pains of loss to poison the present.

Hope

noun – a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

verb – to want something to happen or be the case.

I know a truth that almost none of us keep top of mind, or else the entire world would be different.

None of us know what is going to happen next. Not next week. Not tomorrow. Not five minutes from now.

Sometimes bad things will happen. And sometimes good things will happen.

Sometimes we’ll laugh. And sometimes we’ll cry.

If we always focus on the bad things that happened to us, we will feel sad. If we try to focus on all of the good things that happened, we will feel much better. In the end, the past barely matters and the future isn’t real until it is.

But we have right now. To expect good to happen. To desire happiness and contentment.

Right now we have the power to smile. To laugh. To hug. To kiss. To be kind. To love.

And if life is nothing more than a series of right-nows, then we always have the power to be a force for good.

To choose the life we want for ourselves. A beautiful one.

And I’m hopeful we will.

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36 thoughts on “How to Be Hopeful, Vol. 2

  1. Without hope life becomes more difficult to handle :-)

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  2. mewhoami says:

    Nice and well thought out part 2. I like how you mentioned focusing on the now. Too often we’re caught up in the past and we find ourselves living it over and over again. Or, we seek the future and find ourselves not living at all. What we should be doing, as you said, is living in the present; in the here and now. Today. Right now. This is what we have. This is our certainty. Today is where life is.

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    • Matt says:

      I was watching a TED Talk from 2012 where the speaker (his name escapes me) was talking about this.

      Said a Harvard study indicated the average person is either thinking about the past or future 47% of their waking hours.

      So we spend the MAJORITY of our lives either sleeping or NOT in the now.

      What a tragedy.

      Right now is where life is. Where hope lives.

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      • mewhoami says:

        I believe that. I used to live in the past and future a lot. No, that’s kind of a lie, because I still do to some degree. I can’t help but to look back sometimes and wonder and look forward and hope. Maybe it’s a human thing? However, since my step-dad’s sudden passing last year, I’ve also learned to appreciate the ‘now’ much more than I used to.

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        • Matt says:

          I need to work so much harder at that. Just being present. Trying to take nothing for granted. I’m so sorry you had to experience loss to prompt that in your personal life. But that’s surely an effective reminder.

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  3. April says:

    First of all—maybe Favre will come out of retirement for your team. hee hee. I had to take a deep breath before reading your post because of the title. I have hope every six months when I have to go in for a CT scan. The words I hope to hear are no evidence of disease–doctor talk for cancer free so far.

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    • April says:

      crap…pushed one too many buttons. I also have to be realistic. I may not hear those words, so I strive to keep my hopes on a level that is manageable in case I receive bad news. It’s an entirely different type of hope from what you are talking about, but living today, based upon the lessons of yesterday, will help you be prepared for what may come in the future.

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      • Matt says:

        I don’t know much of anything. And I certainly can’t relate to the situation you’re describing. (I’d be incredibly stressed about that, I think, April.)

        But I think this is true: If I live every day to the fullest. Treating others kindly and trying to be a bright spot in the world. Laughing and playing and loving.

        Then, no matter when I go, there are no regrets.

        Isn’t that the best we can do? A regret-free life?

        Hugs to you, April. I really appreciate you reading and sharing your life with us.

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        • April says:

          Yes, all we have is right now, as cliche as that sounds. It’s a process, but learning to recognize how we let things bother us, or not, is the key. One of my favorite quotes – The past does not equal the future.

          I would love to have no regrets in the end, but every day I learn something new. Sometimes it isn’t something I’m proud of which causes regret–I’m human. I’m simply trying to do the best I can, be the best I’m able to be, and pick myself up and move along if something crappy is thrown my way.

          You give me a lot of new things to think about. Thank YOU for sharing your life with us.

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  4. jgroeber says:

    What a good reminder. There is definitely a limited amount of what we have control over but we really do control the role we play in the now and how we perceive it. That we can be a force for good, for hope and for love, that we can choose joy, well that’s worth something, isn’t it? Maybe everything. These posts were lovely.
    Hoping you find the power to choose joy.

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    • Matt says:

      Thanks a lot, Jen. Appreciate you having a look.

      Choose joy, indeed.

      We can only control how we feel right now. And we only have so many emotions to choose from.

      It’s very easy to choose the bad ones, and I have MANY times in the past year.

      But once we let time go by. One we let healing take place. Then we have more control to make better choices.

      And I do try. Every day. To choose happiness.

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  5. suzjones says:

    I read another blog post this morning that said “What if we inhale but never exhale”? I think it is important that we keep on breathing and keep letting go of everything holding us back with that exhale.
    Live in the now and keep breathing.
    I liked this post Matt. It was certainly inspiring.

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  6. nykeypad says:

    I live in hope, and sometimes they’re dashed by a person or situation. every day I hope and live in the present, because when I project (and I do, I admit), and things don’t turn out the way I planned, I feel upset. best I can is forgive what happened yesterday and try my best today. you’re your authentic self, and as a reader who doesn’t know you, I’m learning from your posts. thanks!

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  7. I think it’s always there though. No matter what is going on in your life, you never really lose it as long as you open your eyes every morning. That’s the smallest sign of hope right there every day, whether you feel it or not, just a second before that first negative thought enters your mind.

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    • Matt says:

      Yes. Hope just is. It’s real. It matters. Some people feel the absence of it. Or deny it. And it’s sad.

      But not most people. And that’s awesome.

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  8. This is a great post on hope and appreciating the present. Thanks

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    • Matt says:

      Thank you very much. We must learn to focus on right now. It’s why many people meditate. To be mindful of the present. I’ve never tried. But I’m going to keep thinking about it.

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  9. Every single day, we wake up and say ‘I have today, thank you’. No matter what, today. That is what I do. Sometimes it is enough.

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  10. Chris says:

    All I had to see was the Browns image at the top to know I didn’t need to read this one. ;)

    No wonder you’re depressed all the time, you’re a Browns fan.

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  11. You know I absolutely understand what you are saying here. I spent so much time during the year long crumble of my marriage, -trying to make the future look like something,- I was really messing up the present. Which ultimately landed me underneath a pile of debris anyway.

    And yet, simultaneously, I was afraid to hope. As if the disappointment of reality would be a greater let down. (Kind of like April’s illustration above). Back then, life consisted of looking back with regret and being crippled by fear of the future. Wanting to hope but not daring to hope too big. SAD!

    Today is different. Honestly, I still worry a little….mostly that I will be called to take my husband back. The thing I once hoped for has morphed into something I dread. What a vicious cycle. Just when I think I ascended the rubble…..

    But I can say with absolute certainty that you and your journey give…(gives?)… me hope. To know that my life track is running parallel to yours, fills me with hope. And I hope it encourages you as you continue share. So deep and yet so simple. Awesome post.

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  12. Thanks for this Matt, nice timing. It has been a tough couple of weeks. Much appreciated. Lisa :)

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    • Matt says:

      I’m sorry to read that, Lisa. Here’s to making right now the best it can be and hopefully feeling better soon.

      Always rooting for you.

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  13. nykeypad says:

    I read this and thought of you. one of my friends went through a divorce, and is still bitter about it more than 10 years later. being his friend means hearing about his ex from time to time, and hoping a hug will heal whatever hurt remains. http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/05/06/e-b-white-letters-of-note-book/

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    • Matt says:

      I just read that on Twitter, coincidentally! It’s wonderful. I’m thrilled it made you think of me. Thank you very much for sharing.

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  14. Dawn says:

    Hmm…Never lose hope. However, you are correct when you say hope can be dangerous. Too many times we “hope” things will change, but yet we sit around waiting for something to happen to make things change, instead of changing things. On the flip side you just can’t stay thinking things will NEVER change, that’s where hope comes in.
    I hope you find peace.
    I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.
    I hope this bag of chocolate doesn’t end up as fat on my ass.

    Hope without action is a fairy tale. Action without hope that things will be better,is empty.

    We definitely need hope…but it should be the starting of action to make a difference.

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