Find the balance between hope and reality

Q: You said long-distance relationships may work, but "out of sight, out of mind" prevails. This is a choice, Steven, not a given. If the commitment is there, time and space know no bounds. For the person who wrote you and inquired, I truly hope they do not hinge their future on your directives. Beyond anything else in our world, hope must live on. -- S.R., Whitehorse, Canada

A: First, you say, "Beyond anything else, hope must live on." Really, beyond anything else? Even beyond reality? I'm all for hope. It's a crucial ingredient to a meaningful life. But, depending on the circumstances, this could be an invitation to delusion.

I remember once a wife saying, in reference to her dying husband, "Is there any hope?"

And I said, gently, "It depends on what you're hoping in and hoping for. Is there any hope that we could be immortal (death-proof)? No, there is no hope. Is there any hope that we could ever love anything or anyone without suffering? No, there is no hope. But is there hope that out of death and suffering can come a life worth living? Worth embracing? Absolutely there's hope."

The encouragement to hope cannot be a false hope, which is an ego-defense designed to help us put off reality. Real hope is grounded deeply in reality ... born out of reality. True hope emerges from the reality of despair, emptiness, death, suffering, injustice, etc. Real hope is born of suffering.

You say, "If the commitment is there, time and space know no bounds." Really? I mean, let's jump to a radical exception to your idea. Namely, death.

In the case of mortality, no amount of commitment changes the fact that time always has bounds. Time is itself an immutable boundary. We live in history, and our personal history has a beginning and an end. Whatever my commitment, some day I'm going to lie down and not get back up.

In the same way, moments and episodes of our lives have beginnings and ends. I'll admit that time and space are existential illusions (there won't be any maps or watches in heaven). But here in this incarnation, time and space are immutable forces demanding reckoning. Whatever our world view, religious outlook or fancies to the contrary, the human experience happens on the stage of time and space. And time and space shape, change and contain experience. Time and space can impede or starve our experience. Or provide a stage on which our experience blooms.

So, back to the point: If two people want to take the risk of a long-distance relationship, their best hope is not to be naive. They'll be tempted to romanticize: "I love you so much and I am so profoundly committed to you that I have become immune to the realities of time and space." If they ask me, I'll talk them out of romanticism and into a hope born of radical commitment to reality: Long-distance relationships generally stink. They are hard. They have consequences. You'll have to fight hard to survive it. Statistically, the preponderant number of them don't work.

Accept that, and then you can practice hope.

Q: A friend and I were arguing over the difference in value of a love letter sent via typed e-mail vs. a handwritten snail mail. If the content was the same, why do people tend to value the handwritten letter more and is that fair? -- W.Q., Las Vegas

A: I don't know if it's fair, but it's certainly a fact.

Everything about the Internet -- including e-mail -- speaks of speed, convenience and virtual reality. It's designed for quick exchanges of fact and detail. On occasion, e-mail provides really funny jokes and film clips, if you're willing to sift through all the bad ones. E-mail also is great for flirting.

Personally, I love it. Really fits my work style and lifestyle ... until I want to say something really important.

Then I get out the stationery and a nice pen. I think. I ponder. Then, finally, I write, in my own hand, a few lines or a few paragraphs. And I sign it.

My penmanship isn't great, but it's mine.

We value handwritten mail more because it deserves to be valued more. It expresses a different kind of intent and commitment. It represents time and thoughtfulness. It has an aesthetic quality. Your own handwriting, good or bad, contains your particular energy in a way that the typewritten word can never do. And your signature is as unique as a snowflake.

Letter writing is a dying art, much deserving of resuscitation.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling and Wellness Center in Las Vegas. His columns appear on Tuesdays and Sundays. Questions for the Asking Human Matters column or comments can be e-mailed to skalas@


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