The Worst Demon

You know the story of Pandora’s Box? I can’t take it for granted that you do.  I grew up on mythology of all kinds, but I know others didn’t, and I have no idea what they teach in schools these days. It’s a Greek myth, Hellene rather than Minoan.

In brief, the titan Prometheus, whose name means foresight, created human beings. When he saw they were naked and cold, he stole fire from the Olympian gods and took it down to them. To punish Prometheus, Zeus chained him to a rock, where an eagle gnawed out his liver every day. Every night, his liver grew back, so the eagle could gnaw it again.

Zeus wasn’t content with punishing Prometheus, though. He wanted to punish his creation. To that end, he created a woman. It’s always a woman. Each of the twelve Olympians imbued this woman with a quality: Beauty, cleverness, wisdom, strength, and so on. (We see a similar thing in later fairy tales, like Sleeping Beauty, where twelve good fairies give the princess gifts at her Christening.) They named the woman Pandora, which means “All Gifts.” And they sent her to Epimethius, the brother of Prometheus, whose name means “Hindsight.” When they sent her, they gave her a box, along with strict instructions never to open it.

Well, you can predict how that went. Eventually, Pandora’s curiosity got the better of her, as the gods knew it would, and she opened the box. Out flew every awful thing imaginable, plague and old age, and war, and sorrow, and death. All these the gods had sent to torment Prometheus’ creation, humankind.

As the story goes, when all the demons had flown out and away, one last thing followed. That thing was Hope. Now, most versions of the story I’ve seen interpret this as the redeeming quality of the gods’ “gift,” the thing that would allow human beings to overcome the rest. But the gods do not think the way human beings do, and their motives are not always as we’d wish. I believe Hope is the worst demon of all, and the gods knew it.

Hope is a lump in your gut and a fist clenched on your heart. It’s fingers wrapped around your throat and refusing to let go. Hope is the thing that keeps you fighting for your dreams in spite of all rational evidence you can never achieve them. It lets you be positive where positivity is a lie, and urges you to struggle on when the entire world seems a pit of suffering with no possibility of redemption.

I’m not a Buddhist; anyone who reads this blog will know that. But I think this is what the Buddha was getting at when he preached non-attachment. See the world as it is, not as Hope would have you see it. Only then can you move on, confront what needs to be confronted, change what needs to be changed.

I’ve been stuck in Hope most of my life. When I was young, it made some sense. A teenager in an abusive environment doesn’t need to stay there forever. One can get free, go somewhere else. A dead-end job, or a series of them, doesn’t mean every job will be the same. You don’t need to stay in unsatisfying relationships. You can go elsewhere. There’s new ground to cover.

The older I get, the less sense Hope makes and the less positive it feels. Granted, I come from a long-lived family and I can probably expect to live another 40 to 50 years, barring serious illness or accident or unseen catastrophe. There’s still ground and still time. But there isn’t time for some things. There isn’t time for children of my own. That’s a biological fact; my fertile years ended long ago. Yet Hope has kept me waiting on a miracle. Miracles happen. After the miscarriages, when I thought “I can’t go through that again,” Hope told me I’d still have kids one day. Listening to Hope, I didn’t take the actions that might have been possible then, but now are not. When I fell into a deep depression, Hope encouraged me to wait it out because nothing lasts forever. Of course, there are a dozen other factors that led to my not ever having the family I wanted, but static hope for things to change is the one on my mind right now. Even as I write this, my brain is going through the contortions of telling me “Maybe by letting go of this dream, you’ll trigger the thing that will allow it to happen.” Fucking Hope.

[Aside: PLEASE refrain from coming into my comments and saying “Adoption, fostering, blah, blah, blah,” because it’s beside the point.]

I’ve hoped situations would work out long after it became clear they wouldn’t and hoped people would change long after it became clear I’d do better to cut ties and run. I’ve hoped I wouldn’t have to confront things, that people around me would wise up on their own, because I hope people are capable of getting a clue and I hate being the person always calling others on their shit. I guess that’s just another way of saying I hate setting boundaries and I want others to set them for me, which is definitely an issue that’s caused me significant misery. I’ve kept breathing and hoped tomorrow would be better. Sometimes that hope has been all I’ve had. I wonder if that’s a good thing. Maybe without hope I wouldn’t be alive now. I wonder if that would have been bad.

Hope can mitigate pain, but sometimes mitigating pain isn’t the right thing to do. Sometimes you have to feel it.

I started this post last Monday. It was a very bad day. Today isn’t. It’s not an objectively good day, but it’s okay. So I’m no longer sure where I’m heading with this train of thought, or the point I meant to make. I think at the time I was thinking “Hope is a sucker’s game, and maybe we should all lie down and die.” I don’t believe that now, at least not all of it. I still think Hope is a sucker’s game. But instead of lying down and dying, maybe we should try standing up and punching Hope in the nose. Maybe then we can create the things we want.

That’s all.




2 thoughts on “The Worst Demon

  1. i have some similar thoughts about hope. hope can lead us astray and make us complacent, such as the prevailing hope that climate change wouldn’t be as dire as it is panning out to be, or indeed that it isn’t real. and the hope that disney tales promote, of prince charming or the sleeping princess, depending on your preference. or the hope that people hold when a loved one is clearing nearing their demise. yeah, hope can be a bitch. this is an eloquent and provocative post, wysewoman. thank you (again and always) for your articulate courage.

  2. Hope, I think, can be a good thing if it keeps one moving in a positive direction. But when it feeds denial and stagnation, then it is one of the demons.

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