Charles de Gaulle used to say that “the end of hope is the beginning of death.” However, and not wanting to disrespect the wisdom of the heroic general, the end of hope can often mean the beginning of life.
His existence one of restlessness, from beginning to end. Perhaps for this reason, Fernando Pessoa started to write the Book of Disquiet at the age of 25, a task that accompanied him until the end of his life - and which, unfortunately, he left unfinished. Officially signed by Bernardo Soares, one of his several heteronyms, the work is a compendium of confessions, phrases that seem like poems of unloving, and texts with multiple interpretations. In all of them, the writer tries to find (some) sense for the reality that surrounds him. “These are my confessions and, if I say nothing about them, it's that I have nothing to say”, he warns at the beginning, as if he accepts to enter a gigantic labyrinth, knowing in advance that few of the questions that he proposes to ask will have an answer. The long excerpt that follows, in the next paragraph, is representative of this permanent anguish, and is also representative of a different, very distinct type of feeling, that we normally associate with the notion of hope, that belief, or disposition of the spirit, that something good will happen. In other words, it is representative of the moment when we accept that there are times, circumstances, when hope, quite simply, has nowhere else to turn. We learn from an early age that “hope is the last thing to die” or that “while there is life there is hope”, but existence proves to us, all of us, that in many cases there is no more room for hope. And this, it should be noted, does not have to be the end or the beginning of anything; it doesn't have to be a catastrophe. On the contrary, it may be the possibility of a fresh start and, in a way, a release. Still, let us not be too hasty. Let Pessoa / Soares teach us something about the subject, before jumping to conclusions, something so common in this promiscuous 21st century.
“I belong to a generation that inherited disbelief in the Christian faith and created in itself a disbelief in all other faiths. Our fathers still had the believing impulse, which they transferred from Christianity to other forms of illusion. Some were champions of social equality, others were wholly enamored of beauty, still others had faith in science and its achievements, and there were some who became even more Christian, resorting to various Easts and Wests in search of new religious forms to entertain their otherwise hollow consciousness of merely living. We lost all of this. We were born with none of these consolations. Each civilization follows the particular path of a religion that represents it; turning to other religions, it loses the one it had, and ultimately loses them all. We lost the one, and all the others with it. And so we were left, each man to himself, in the desolation of feeling ourselves live. A ship may seem to be an object whose purpose is to sail, but no, its purpose is to reach a port. We found ourselves sailing without any idea of what port we were supposed to reach. Thus we reproduced a painful version of the argonauts’ adventurous precept: living doesn’t matter, only sailing does. Without illusions, we live by dreaming, which is the illusion of those who can’t have illusions. Living on ourselves, we diminish ourselves, because the complete man is the who ignores himself. Without faith, we have no hope, and without hope we have no life. Having no idea of the future, we have no idea of today, because today, for the man of action, is nothing but a prologue of the future. The energy to fight was born dead within us, because we were born without the enthusiasm of the fight. Some of us stagnated in the daily achievement, inferiorly looking for daily bread, and wanting to get it without the felt work, without the awareness of effort, without the nobility of achievement. Others, of better strain, abstained from public affairs, wanting nothing and desiring nothing, and trying to carry the cross of simply existing to the ordeal of oblivion. Impossible effort, in which one does not, like the bearer of the Cross, have a divine origin in consciousness. Others surrendered themselves, out of their souls, to the cult of confusion and noise, thinking they lived when they heard, believing to love when they clashed with the externalities of love. Living hurts us because we knew we were alive; dying did not terrify us because we had lost the normal notion of death. But others, Race of the End, spiritual limit of the Dead Hour, did not even have the courage of denial and asylum in themselves. What we experienced was in denial, discontent and dismay. But we live it from within, without gestures, always closed, at least in the way of life, between the four walls of the room and the four walls of not knowing how to act.”
The outburst of Pessoa / Soares is inextricably linked to the world he knew, a kind of no-man's-land, which caught the transition from the 19th to the 20th century. Pessoa / Soares died aged 47, and the anguish of living in a country with no direction - one in which politics and religion, which should "guide the people" were synonymous with dubious and archaic institutions, made him doubt a more prosperous tomorrow - ate his guts. In that sense, his words are, in essence, the metaphor of this lack of widespread hope in a Portugal that had long since lost its identity. That’s why this passage from the Book of Disquiet, written over a hundred years ago, remains as current as the day, or night, when it was written on paper. It depicts, for example, the disbelief of a humanity that finds itself facing endless wars (Syria is a silent example of everything that makes us lose hope, for example, in dialogue and empathy), the abnormal number, and tragic, of mothers and babies who die during childbirth due to lack of basic medical conditions (in 2019, according to the UN, every 11 minutes a mother or baby died during, or shortly after, childbirth), the increase in extremist, almost fundamentalist behaviors, both politically and socially (see the increasing strength of right-wing parties and, also, the aggressiveness of the so-called cancellation culture), but also people who give up living because they feel lost, alone, or just desperate (in Portugal, the suicide rate per 100 thousand inhabitants is overwhelming and, according to UN data, in 2016 1.450 peoplecommitted suicide). The catalog of global suffering and destitution is almost infinite. There are a thousand and one reasons for not giving up on hope, because with each new day, when the sun rises, it is reborn; but on a planet ruled by leaders like Donald Trump, there are a thousand and one reasons to give it up. And make peace with it.
We live in a culture that calls for hope, in all its forms. The most recent, “Everything Will Be Alright”, puts an invisible pressure on each one of us, who feels compelled to win, or overcome, something, be it the work that is at risk, the relationship that has worsened with pandemic, the stress that increased to unthinkable levels during confinement, the fear of the unknown of this “new normal.” Of course, when we face our daily final judgment, which usually happens when we rest our heads on the pillow, “We want everything to be alright”, but it is not always possible. And there is no harm in that. Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chödrön suggests an alternative to this idea - let's abandon hope. “Hope and fear come from the feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment. We feel that someone else knows what is going on, but that there is something missing in us, and therefore something is lacking in our world.” It should be emphasized that Chödrön highlights the fact that hope is usually linked to attachment, and this means that “waiting for certain things to happen in a certain way” becomes a condition for our happiness. As the site Mind That Ego writes, “It is difficult to avoid this trap, since hope is rooted in our culture. Wikipedia defines hope as ‘an optimistic mood’. The opposite of hope is hopelessness or despair.” However, if we understand it as proposed by Chödrön, we may be able to realize that the opposite of hope is not despair, but liberation. Because, without realizing it, hope can become a “mental prison” that conditions us: we hope to find a great love; we hope to build a perfect family; we hope to find the job of our dreams; we hope to have the most cohesive group of friends; we hope that our football team wins every game; we hope to be able to spend holidays in idyllic places; we hope that serious health problems do not affect us, neither we nor our beloved ones; we hope that this government will be better than the previous one... It is as if we have inherited a to-do list that constantly hovers over our heads, making noise, and pressure, day in and day out. Only, at the same time, we are unable to ignore that talking cricket that asks us, bluntly: “Why the hell would we abandon hope, something supposedly positive, in favor of something we don't know and that society, or others (it’s always others) see as negative?”
How do you deal with the end of hope, or rather - is there a "right way" to deal with the end of hope? We put the question to Filipa Jardim da Silva, Clinical Psychologist and Specialist in Clinical and Health Psychology. “Hope can fade when the dream or the objective that we persisted no longer makes sense. Life is constantly changing so it is important to update our ambitions as well. It may be difficult to let go of what we were aiming for, but to allow some dreams to die is to pave the way for other new dreams to be born. When we don't update our goals, we allow hopelessness and discouragement to take over. It is important to recognize this and not to resign yourself to the frustration of an unhappy life. It is necessary to level the levels of hope, starting from the present moment and creating objectives based on our area of action and considering our starting point and the current context.” And should we be ashamed to accept the end of hope, for whatever reason? "Because hope is one of the last feelings to die, it does not mean that it cannot be extinguished. This end and transition must be given legitimacy like any other. Hope goes hand in hand with persistence. However, it is necessary to differentiate it from obstinacy. If it is important to fight for our dreams and goals, let this fight not be at any cost or that it lasts longer than what is healthy for us. We are beings in permanent transformation, so that everything is changeable in us, it is natural that hope also be.” We remember Chödrön's words. We want to know why, often, especially at a social level, the end of hope is seen as a sign of defeat, when it contains, in itself, and in a certain way, the beginning of a new hope. According to Filipa Jardim da Silva, "it is seen as a sign of defeat because we tend to personalize our results too much, losing sight of the context. We can cherish the dream of having children and not getting it, of getting married and not happening, of having a certain salary and employment and we miss those goals. In a society that privileges success and having, at the expense of learning and being, it is natural that these failures are seen as defeats, as well as the end of the hope associated with them. It is necessary to make our mentality visible and gain a perspective of growth in relation to life. If we have not reached a certain goal after much persistence and hope, then it is because that goal did not depend entirely on us, or was poorly defined as a starting point, or because there is another goal more adjusted considering the people we are and what we need. There are no first or second category dreams, there are simply different dreams and goals, and there are many different ways to design a relatively happy and successful life project.” Punch line: could the end of hope be, after all, liberating? “Without a doubt, letting go of the last dose of hope, allowing to let die what we cherished can be very liberating and open space for new dreams and an invigorated hope to emerge. When we perpetuate the emotions within us they tend to become toxic, so it is important that we privilege the ability to identify, name and regulate each feeling so that it can come and go about fulfilling its mission.”
Not all stories are the same. There are some that are more painful than others, for which there is no possible ground. Like the disappearance of a loved one. There is an “expiration date” to deal with the end of hope, to accept it, or depends on each one of us, we ask Filipa Jardim da Silva. Because in cases like death, where there is no return, no comfort, no solution, the healing processes can be different from person to person. “Dealing with the end of hope is a process of mourning in which we need to give up the need for things to have happened in a different way and go through a series of steps from revolt, denial and sadness to acceptance and pacification in the face of reality. It is a challenging process. To be able to have a healthy mourning and let go of hope to make room for new dreams and the experience of the present moment, it is necessary to invest in our self-knowledge and personal development. Without robust emotional resources it can be much more difficult to do this process in a healthy and autonomous way.” This is the scientific explanation. This is the real testimony, written by José Santana, editor-in-chief of GQ Portugal: “When Vogue asked me for a testimony about 'The end of hope', the immediate reaction inside me was: 'So good to be able to talk about this topic!' Then I continued to listen to the features editor explanation regarding the article, and I understood the testimony she wanted from me was about the end of hope when someone dies. I think I disguised my disillusionment, and my head started to browse the words that I was no longer going to write; there would no longer be room for a ‘after any grief, new hope will come, whatever it may be’, I thought to myself, because, in relation to death, in relation to the last end, there is nothing that can be said. From the ‘cake’, I got the worst slice. And without really knowing why, I felt uncomfortable. Maybe because someone asked me to go there, to death. The death that took me two sisters and a father within months, so recently. Since that day, until now, when I write these lines, the theme has not left my head. What is hope for when death comes? And the answer is: it is useless. Someone we love is not a hope. It is much more than that. Hope may die, but that person within us cannot. We only hope for one thing when we don't have it. So normally, the worse things are, the more we need hope. And I never needed to have hope to have my sisters, or my father. They simply were. They existed, and that seemed to be enough. The hope that a miracle will happen, and that the person we love will survive a terrible disease, is a period of time and cannot become the whole. To have the memories we always had, to remember traces of our temper or tastes that were somehow the consequences of this person having been part of our life. They continue to accompany us in thought just as before. Maybe even harder. Like a work that gains strength when its author dies. At the end of a love, hope will lead us to a new love - in fact, this is the true death of a love that had a life of its own, dreams, experiences, and which is now nothing. In death love does not die. In death loved ones do not die. For those who believe in (another) life after death, as is my case, it is just a wait until the reunion. For those who do not believe, deep down... they will have to accept the hope that, perhaps, they are mistaken.”
It's the worst part. The one that nobody mentions in fairy tales. The one no one mentions in the books where the two lovers set out together towards eternity. It's the worst part. The one that is not advertised in neon letters in cinema premieres. The one no one comments when they swear for eternal love or vows of commitment. It's the worst part. “And they did not live happily ever after." It is the tearing of a heart that was believed to be full. It is looking in the mirror and not seeing any reflection, or seeing a thousand reflections, all of which are fragments of what we invested, of what we believed in. It is the end, announced or not, of a relationship. "And they didn't live happily ever after." It is the punch in the stomach that we know will not pass. It is the endless wait for the end of the pain. One day. Two days. Three days. It is to see that the hand that grabbed our hand is no longer part of our hand - it’s just another hand, any hand, like thousands of others hands. It means being in a crowd and feeling alone, looking for a presence that will not arrive. It is knowing that the ellipsis has become an end point. "I'm going this way, you're going that way." The end. There are no more dinner parties for two or cuddles on the sofa, no more tight hugs, those that seemed to be the best in the world, nor will be more kisses that warm the soul. There are no more grumpy sunrises or blood-and-guts fights that, even though they are not blood-and-guts fights, peppered the environment and turned into laughter of happiness. There is no more "we", because there is no more "you and me." The plural becomes an absent thing. Life teaches us that it is very rare to find that unusual balance between love, passion, respect, boredom, temptation, aging, and everyday life, that is, the qualities sine qua non for that “and they lived happily ever after”, so it was supposed, by this time, that we were more than used to the emotional blows that rob us of innocence and affection. But we are not. We never are. And over the years - as the years go by - we become more fragile, more vulnerable, more defenseless; more demanding, too, more cynical, too, more attentive, too. But nothing, ever, prepares us for the end of a relationship in which we deposited all our strength, in which we bet everything, as in a round of blackjack. It was all or nothing - it was nothing. Otherwise it is not love, it is something like entertainment for adults. And as nothing, never, prepares us for the end of a relationship where we went beyond our limits, where we saw hope where it did not exist, it is of supreme kindness for us to know how to accept when that hope has come to an end. "And they didn't live happily ever after." But they were (very) happy while they lived.