“Trust no one.”
That’s what I used to tell my clients. I sat in countless stark, tiny prison visiting rooms that smelled of bitter recirculated air and told my clients: “Don’t even trust me until I prove myself to you. Make sure I earn it.”
As a criminal defense lawyer, I had to assume no one could be trusted. Trusting people to do their jobs was irresponsible, especially working within a broken, bleeding criminal justice system. Protecting the client was my single most important duty, which meant I never relied on faith, or hope, or trust in anyone or anything outside of myself.
I hunted out the things that could go wrong. Why? Because you lose, you get screwed, and the system fails. Over and over again.
I was raised to see bad things in the world as causes for me to fight. Sufferers were people for me to save. The most divine way for me to live was to lift people up, not tear them down. But that lens brought into focus all the horror and need to control life’s moments, while blurring out what others had faith in: the natural rhythm of the universe to take care of things in the end.
As I’ve gotten a little older (and thus more aware of how much therapy I need), people regularly tell me I could use a little hope that things will be okay. But when a risk or a diagnosis arises, I do everything in my power to control the outcome. Research the best hospitals, the best doctors, the best course of treatment, the right air temperature for the room, and so on.
Despite my efforts, I still assume the worst will happen. When a hopeful friend tells me to cross my fingers and have faith, I smile and nod. Sorry, but I can’t have something I don’t have, or be something I’m not. No matter how many times you tell me I can! Or that I will! Or that I should! Do I really believe that things will be okay? Nope. Might they be? Sure. But I’ll spend zero time hoping they will be. I have always taken “plan for the worst” very seriously. I take every imaginable precaution and wait for what’ll go wrong.
I imagine the wreckage I’ve dodged is immeasurable.
Even so, I’m fed up with hopelessness. It’s no longer a protector—it’s shutting me down entirely. I talk myself out of taking risks because I assume things will end in disaster. And yet, people all around me believe in beating the odds and miracles and recovery. Just ready and willing to bet on something they can’t see, touch, or prove.
Surely our pilot is qualified.
Our new business will turn a profit.
I can trust this babysitter to protect my child.
The chemo will work.
My kid will turn out alright.
We go to a better place after we die.
To those of you who have hope, or faith, or trust: I’m here to tell you how lucky you are. Don’t take it for granted.
Because I have tried and failed to “hope for the best.” The problem is, I know better. I can’t unsee those moments when the worst did, in fact, happen. Left unattended, won’t life disappoint and heartache find you? Faith just isn’t on the table anymore. It’s too dangerous in its passivity. Because the blow of disappointment was most painful when I wasn’t expecting it.
Believers tend to focus on the thing they have faith in, like God or Peace or that it’ll all be okay in the end. But they’re missing something. Not all of us have the ability to believe in the first place.
Sure, I believe it’s possible that God exists, but that doesn’t mean I can just choose to have Faith in Him, or Her, or whatever. And trust me, I’d love to. I’d feel so much better if I believed in a great Protector out there. I desperately want to believe in beating the odds. I’m aware that they say hope can help people cope with health problems. Because believing the chemo will work is better than assuming the cancer will kill you, right? It makes sense to hope, then. It actually makes things better.
But hopelessness feels engrained within me. Just like some people say their faith is just within them. Cite to socialization or genetics or depression or whatever you like, but it’s just there.
To be clear, I don’t believe everything will always and forever fall apart. If nothing were ever okay, no one would keep up with this charade. But I still live life as if everything will go wrong. But this has led to new moments when I stand frozen, unable to move out of fear. Not having faith does, in fact, leave me terrified on a daily basis.
What if the babysitter doesn’t lock the door?
What if the plane has an unknown electrical problem?
What if my kid grows up to be a rapist? Or a Republican?
This might seem like a horrifying way to live, and it is.
I don’t remember choosing fear over faith.
Fear and mistrust found me, and now I can’t get away. I’m in awe of the people who face insurmountable challenges, and comfort themselves with this invisible fairy dust I can’t seem to get my hands on.
I envy those who have faith. Those who believe and feel something I can’t. They fill the gap between now and the future with their faith. Not because of controlling, planning, worrying, or obsessing their way through every moment, but just because. Because they believe it will turn out okay.
If faith is part of your life, cherish it. I used to shake my head and judge you for what I perceived as your naiveté. Now I wish I could join you. It would make being an adult so much easier.