Started thinking about hope a lot back in 2009, probly right around August. In fact I thought about it so much that I wrote an essay about it — er not an essay, more like a verbal collage.
Obama ran for prez the year before, so I might have subconsciously just ripped off my “hope” obsession from his campaign slogan. Seems likely.
In my hope collage/essay I quoted from a Brave Saint Saturn song:
“With all the hope that I could beg or borrow, I can’t wait, can’t wait for tomorrow.”
That sort of hope seems foreign and frankly disgusting at a time when a racist, sexist, ableist demagogue just got elected president of the U.S., and racists, misogynists, homophobes, anti-Semites, etc. feel empowered to harass and persecute women/PoC/LGBTQ+ folks/etc.
So I don’t know how to deal with that.
When I was a kid I hated myself and occasionally wanted to kill myself. When I was a teenager I called myself a “loser” every day and regularly thought about killing myself. When I was in college I came very, very close to actually doing it.
I never thought I had a positive future ahead of me in any of those years (by “those years” I mean, let’s say, the first 20 years of my life). I thought I was hopeless, incapable of doing anything valuable or even supporting myself or contributing to the world in any way.
Here’s an excerpt from my hope essay, which for context I wrote when I was 19:
“Hope is the ability to look past your situation and looking [sic] for better things in the future. … I hope for many things, but I don’t think of hope in terms of those things. I simply…hope. To put it another way, hope is not defined in terms of its object — we don’t define hope by what we hope for, just as we don’t define ‘eating’ by the specific food we eat. To eat, and to hope, are both actions.”
And another section, from the same essay:
“When I have one of these [mental breakdowns], it comes in waves. Bursts, tidal waves of self-hatred, self-loathing, self-doubt, self-pity, and paralyzing fear crash down on me, and I’m beaten down, suffocated beneath them. Then it recedes, and I’m left with a few seconds of clear-headed thinking before the wave comes again — and the littlest thing can set it off! — worse than before. This cycle continues as I spiral downward, where I hit bottom [sic] [“where” obviously is the wrong conjunction] [this passage was basically describing an average Tuesday for me] [no more bracketed interjections i promise] [well one more].”
So I have no idea how those two sentiments coexisted in the same essay, let alone in the same brain.
Like I said earlier I don’t know where this hope came from (I’d never had it before — August 2009 is the earliest I remember feeling it). Back then, superstitious and religious as I was, I might have thought it came from God. Now, I still believe in God’s existence but don’t believe he’s particularly involved in my personal life for reasons too lengthy and/or depressing to get into here, so in retrospect I dismiss this explanation.
It was a mysterious thing tho. As I’ve explained, I was pretty far from being an optimistic person at age 19.
There is no parallel here to our current situation, and I wouldn’t presume to make one. (Hell I’m not sure it’s even possible to speak about trump thru metaphor or analogy.)
Point is, hope is somewhat unreasonable in our current situation.
I don’t know if I even necessarily recommend it, from an objective perspective.
But: maybe it’s possible to have unreasonable hope.
Up above that section break there I said it was possible to have unreasonable hope. For one group of people it isn’t just possible — it’s compulsory.
I’m talking about Christians.
Now, Christians — particularly white evangelical Christians — have really fucked us over. We’ve all seen the statistics — 81% of white evangelicals voted for trump. Etc. And we all know about the Moral Majority and the homophobia and the abstinence-only education and the rest of it. We know about the fear and the guilt and the slut-shaming and the ugly, ugly things Christians have done in our society.
So, Christians (and I am one, technically): Get your fucking shit together. Assholes.
Christians have these things called virtues. There are seven of them, and the three most important ones, the ones that supposedly result from conversion, are called the theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity (“charity” in the old sense of the word not the shitty reductive modern sense).*
Christians, according to millennia of church teaching, have to demonstrate and personify these virtues.
So Christians don’t have a choice. They have to have hope, even in the most desperate of circumstances.
Everyone else does have a choice, I suppose.
It’s possible to have hope without knowing exactly what the fuck to do. That’s definitely my current situation right now with this whole trump/racism/sexism/oppression-in-general thing.
But real hope, hope that’s not just optimistic wishy-washy bullshit, should motivate you to do something. Or so I assume.
A few months after I wrote that “hope” essay I went to see a counselor for the first time in my life. I got diagnosed with clinical depression and social anxiety, started taking meds and taking better care of myself, went to counseling for a while, and got better. A lot better. Better than I had ever imagined — seriously my life is way better than I ever thought it would be, and it’s just because I’m alive, I have a job, and I don’t wish I was dead.
Here’s my hope for this current American Dark Age: It ain’t gonna last. The storm’s gonna blow over (granted it’s a storm that’s been lasting for all of America’s history but still). We’re gonna figure out a solution. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, somewhere. It might take four years or it might take 40, or 400, but love and acceptance and tolerance are gonna win, and hate and bigotry and prejudice and bitterness and oppression are gonna lose. Life is gonna win, and death is gonna lose. Basically.
(can I get an “easy for you to say, STRAIGHT WHITE MAN!!!”?)
So I’m trying to have hope. But I don’t know what to do. I do know that it’s very very difficult to change other people. So the first thing I can change is myself. Am I going to be angry and despairing, or loving and hopeful? (Would I like to live in a society built by angry, despairing people, or loving, hopeful people?) And the fact that this has turned into a goddam Sunday School lesson at a time like this is offensive to me. But I keep thinking and thinking, and this is where I keep landing.
Hope is offensive, but it also seems like it’s necessary.
I hope I can think of better ways than this to fight trump.
All misspellings are intentional.
*Paraphrasing a passage from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis