Hope Revisited: The Agony of Desire

I think you know this. I think you know the ache so deep it swells up until your throat throbs, until your body threatens to fracture with longing. I think you know how to tuck (or shove) everything back down before you walk out of the bathroom stall, wake your children, or begin the business meeting. I think you know the separation between your smile and your mind.

While we tend to hate the agony of unfulfilled desire, we are often falsely accusing the fruit and not the seed. We’re really witnessing the war against hope. Because, after all, if we have surety in possibility, a firm grip on a better future, an immovable faith in the manifestation of our wishes, we’re simply passing toward them, not leaving all the good behind. There’s little anguish in a productive wait instead of a permanently locked door.

When I discovered the word “ambivalence” some years back, it filled a gap in my mind that had been longing for something concrete to name the tides of my thoughts. I was passing through a significant period of mourning and rebuilding, though I can’t say for certain this time is over (and there is no shame in a lack of arrival). In a sense, this poem is about the ambivalence of longing to embody hope while shying away from the agony of desire. The tug-of-war in seeing desire as an enemy to crush me versus a dream weaver to add light to my eyes and formidability to my step. The fear of disappointment wrestling with the willingness to be vulnerable through hoping.

Whatever beliefs you bring to the table, whatever pains, whatever longing, I hope you will approach this from the backdrop of a simple story: a man who knew the ache of want and hope unfulfilled for years and years on end. A brother in grief and frustration. And I, a sister.

Abraham

I.

you told me to go

so, I did.

no real direction but that one word.

Yet, I did.

not even an, “I’ll tell you when you get there”.

just, a sudden, primal urging.

I see how, from then on,

life was in tents for him.

it feels the same.

where can I lay my head on a rock or floor

that is truly mine?

where can I dig and plant and plan for

something under my domain?

did he lose his kinship with the land?

did he lose his sight for tomorrow?

was his heart ever a foreigner, ever lonely for a true home,

from that time forward?

or, like the words say,

did he hope against hope?

did he trust those words inherently in each breath:

“don’t be afraid

I am your shield

and your very great reward.”

say them to me now,

lest I walk forward without faith

in this journey of blended light and shadow.

II.

I remember someone declared

he was “…longing for a better country—a heavenly one”

this makes me disgruntled in my mundane longing

but,

isn’t this the same man who lied

and let people steal his wife…

more than once?

ha!

if he couldn’t see past

an imagined sword,

then

those words are more a eulogy

than a diary.

I am strong as well.

just not all the time.

III.

father Abraham

had many sons

funny how you changed his name

adding one letter made him the father of many

and you said it when he had nothing to show for all his hope

then and a long time thereafter.

a cruel bait and switch –

or the journey was the point,

and not a distraction.

you gave the words, the dream

and he was the agent of belief

seeing time and time again

how you never forsake the ones you love.

It takes a lot of steps

to convince someone

that you’ll always love them.

I am one of them,

and so are you.

IV.

I wonder if he cursed you

for the low, ruminating ache in his loins.

your pronouncement enunciating everything

he didn’t have

and couldn’t give himself.

month after month

(for that is how time without children is measured)

his heart, a nomad in his chest

roaming from faith to fury and back

every year mocking his empty hands.

even beauty, by contrast, made him listless.

why does joy look so easy and abundant

in the eyes of others

and so elusive and awkward in mine?

perhaps he stared down at himself

and his wife and thought,

“our bodies just aren’t made for love”.

V.

If I am to be Abraham

In all my naked want

Either stuff my cracks with newspaper

Bits and pieces to keep me busy and bursting

To keep my feet from slipping out of life.

Or take these desires and sift them from me

Leaving today.

Just leave today.

Don’t talk to me of the stars

If I was made for city blocks.

But if there’s more than I could

Ask or imagine.

If I was built for love.

Then only speak to me of the moon

And stars.


Where in your life have you given up? Where have you believed for others and not yourself? Where in your life have you settled for city blocks, and shut your eyes to the sky?

Friend. You were made for the moon and stars. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, especially yourself.

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