22 February, 2024

A New Hope

A motion to undo my wrongful conviction was filed in the Missouri Court of Appeals in December. Katie Moore, the reporter for The Kansas City Star who interviewed me for her article about the filing, wanted to know how it felt to have my case back in court for the first time in thirteen years. Was I hopeful, she wanted to know.

I'd begun the interview feeling prepared to answer any question she asked about my case. That question, though, caught me by surprise. Was I hopeful?

For a stretch of recent history, having hope has been considered a blessing. Philosophers and theologians in our modern age tend to believe that hope is a great virtue. But older cultures had a different view. The ancient Greeks, for instance, considered hope an especially nasty flavor of self-deception, a corrupting evil. That age-old story about Pandora opening the box containing all the world's woes? (It was actually a jar, not a box, but whatever.) Hope was in there, unloosed upon the earth thanks to Pandora's curiosity, to humanity's great torment. An Italian proverb holds that a person who "lives by hope will die by despair." Referencing this, Addison wrote, "If we hope for what we are not likely to possess, we act and think in vain, and make life a greater dream and shadow than it really is." Although a young Nietzsche wasn't too keen on hope, either, he did come around in his later years. By the end of his essay on the ultimate futility of life, The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus accepted hope, but only begrudgingly. The biblical proverb about hope deferred could provide the basis to an argument against hope. A comparable notion can be found in Buddhist teachings, which hold that wishing circumstances be otherwise ignores reality, the opposite of an enlightened mindset. Although there's been a general shift toward the line that hope is a good thing, it's not without detractors. There's always a cynic somewhere. I know because I used to be one. "Byron the Black-Hearted, Dark Cliffs upon Which the Waves of Hope Break," one clever friend dubbed me. I'll just say, you don't get that kind of moniker bestowed on you for being fun at parties. If that was then, what am I now? I want out of prison, of course, but I no longer feel desperate for that outcome. It's been so long since I had a fighting chance at freedom. Since my lawyers' filed our motion to the court, a chance has presented itself. I feel like a dog with a grape in its mouth
Is it food or is it a toy? and I don't really know what to do. The poet Marianne Moore wrote, "Hope isn't hope until all grounds to hope have vanished." (I've probably quoted that line on this blog before; what can I say except I like it that much?) I don't know what Moore intended by it, exactly, but her line nevertheless makes sense to me. You can't truly know hope until you've stared into the abyss which, as Nietzsche famously wrote, stares also back into you then continued moving forward anyway.
Right now, I'm just moving.

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