A Hopeless Present Made Me Turn to The Past and The Future

Jane Tawel

By Jane Tawel

The Present seems hopeless, so practicing mindfulness, thoughts and prayers, even my personal version of mild-mannered activism, have all made me incredibly depressed. I realized the other day that not only do I feel constantly depressed, but consistently anxious and impotent. What is happening in “The Now” makes me feel downhearted on so many levels, from the personal to the world-wide. And I feel even older than I am. I used to read through four newspapers, now I skim their headlines because otherwise I get, as my husband calls it, “way too worked up”. I used to look to family and friends, but they are all worried too; angry too; depressed and sad, too. I used to look to spiritual writings, people, ideas, pastors, rabbis or gurus; but lately, it is like looking through the wrong end of a telescope. “Hello, God, it’s me, Jane” is more the punchline to a bad cosmic Tarzan joke, than a cry for a, “Hello, a wee bit of help down here please, Someone”.

Last week as I wallowed and groped about in the dark, all at once, like curtains drawn letting sunlight into a darkened room, Hope arrived. Hope came to me from The Past. Hope came to me from The Future. And as Emily Dickinson said, “never in extremity, it asked a crumb of me”. Hope asks not for a crumb, but for a mere modicum of consent. I realized that hope is not an ever-Present presence, because The Present is when we must do the hard work of toil and creation without hope — despite hopelessness. It is only by looking at all that humanity has accomplished in the past and all that humanity dreams of for the future that we can shape the present day.

My desk with Emily Dickinson’s Poem prominent.

From the Past, Hope came spectacularly in a vision. It was, ironically not a vision of loveliness in nature, or majesty in art, but a vision of reality in the form of a gigantic wall of concrete. I visited the Hoover Dam. It made me remember that mankind is capable of helping Nature, not just the other way around. And I thought, well maybe, we can save the planet from all the climate change and destruction we’ve caused. Maybe the very species who tamed the Colorado River can tame the human greed leading our planet towards extinction. We’ve done it before. There have been good leaders who cared and who put the hands and minds of the citizenry to valuable work. There have been great accomplishments that benefited whole communities that began with a dream and the wild creative, imaginative intelligence by the dreamers of our species. And there have been times when people cared for the future of everyone, not just their own individualistic getting ahead. The Hoover Dam reminded me that men and women can do wondrous things for each other, by working in teams, and caring for friends and strangers alike, even unto death.

Did you know that when someone died on the construction site at the building of the Hoover Dam, if the body died on the “wrong side” of the dam, and if their fellow workers were close enough to the state line, they would move the corpse from the Nevada side to the Arizona side so the family would get more life insurance paid out after the death? These people of The Great Depression, did not let their own depression stop them from making sure their children had something better in the future, something to inherit. Now, that is loving your neighbor as yourself. Which brings me to the hope I have found in the future. People, mostly young people are giving me hope.

“Hoover Dam” by scorpio-tiger is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The most encouraging thing I read this week was about employees who are banding together and are speaking out against employers who use the company’s finances and political sway to support controversial issues. For instance, the Google employees who recently lobbied their employers about immigration policies. And then there is the March for Our Lives young people who have come out with the Peace Plan for a Safer America. Although some of them are not yet employees, they will be if we can keep our national economy from completely tanking before they all graduate college. Don’t even get me started on the great hope I feel reading about the protestors in Hong Kong who humbly and publicly apologized for the unintended consequences of their protest at the airport, and then got right back out there and did some more protesting. And then there are the groups rising up like an army on ethical-steroids, who still have faith that we can end our destructive and abusive relationship with the planet and save it so they, and their grand-kids, and maybe even their great-grand-kids can enjoy it.

There are even — Surpise! — some people who have decided their religion isn’t worth all that much if it isn’t about somehow following the injunction to “love mercy and seek justice” and to treat our neighbors and the planet in the same way we would like to be treated. This band of Hope Dispensers includes everyone from the Catholic Sisters of Mercy protesting the treatment of immigrants; to Father Greg and Homeboy Ministries still out there helping the previously incarcerated; to Operation Noah, a Christian charity trying to inspire action on climate change. These are all groups of people who still believe they can change the world, and that it is actually our “job” as worker-bees and supervisors plunked down at Creation on this awesome, great globe of good gifts. And despite my lack of faith in the present movers and shakers of the world, these folks just give me so much darn hope in the future, that I can almost rise above my own extreme Weltschmerz. Looking at others can help us stop navel gazing, but only if when we look at them, we see someone who is not an enemy that we are competing with, but who is a person we are living here with for a short time called The Present. What we do with our own individual share of The Present, is what shapes The Future and will, with a bit of faith and hope, leave stories of The Past worth telling.

“March For Our Lives: Madison” by pchgorman is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

With intelligence and great heart, with hard labor, and imaginative dreams, with a desire for a soulfulness that is more than self-care, and by looking back at The Past and forward to The Future, there is Hope. I have found my hope today, in the fact that there are still people, not just in this nation, but throughout the world, whose very future livelihood depends on the rich, power-mongering, greedy, famous guys (and gals) who are in charge, but who, just like small humans did in the past, are bravely saying to the world’s political, commercial, and religious leaders, “keep your bread and circuses. We won’t eat your cake.” And in the midst of my anxiety and despair that lately seems a daily dose meted out by actual reality, I thought, there are some people who still care about other people because it is the right thing to do. They even care about people they don’t know, whom they will possibly never even meet. They are practicing ethical living in their own small parts of the world and they are taking the burden on themselves as well, for those who are the powerless, the “least of” people in the world, or to once more quote Ms. Dickinson, they care about “the nobodies”. Like me. For, “I’m nobody; are you nobody too? Then there’s a pair of us.” And as Emily Dickinson knew, it is ultimately more “dreary” to be “somebody” who is in it only for himself, than to be a nobody united with other nobodies who are in it together.

There is Hope because there are humans who still care about the ethics of their jobs and the values of their generation and the truthfulness of their religious or political affiliations. There are those of our species who can accept that ethics are not just individual choices but the choices of those we work for, vote for, worship with, pay to play, and those whom we little guys make money for, often by the bucketful. There are people who understand the best power of all is the power of community united in hope for a better world. There are still people who know that the best job is a job that, at the end of the day, is about more than making more money. There are men and women who believe that if they can change individually, then the communities they belong to can change, the companies they work at can change, and the nations they reside in can also change. And they are speaking out and doing something about it. And that is Hopeful with a capital ‘H’ for a Future, with a capital ‘H’.

“Me First!” by Bill Rumpel is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Today, rather than wallow in my fears and angst and yes, sometimes, helplessly flailing anger, I will choose Hope for the Future because of the Hope of Our Past. I will walk away from hopelessness on this side of the world’s metaphoric wall, and, like the bucket-haulers building The Hoover Dam, I will do my very best to help my brother and sister humans to the other side of the wall. Just as for my own nation, The Hoover Dam symbolized hope, all those years ago, duringThe Great Depression; I will not let myself be a victim of my own great depression. Just as the worker-bees who built the Hoover Dam helped each other out, even unto death, I will keep Hope alive in order to do my small part for the Future and for the young people on our planet and their children, and their children’s children. I will do what I can to ensure that my children have more life insurance — the insurance that Life is worth living and that Love is worth giving and that Hope is worth treasuring. I will hope and work and dream and remember, and I will reach out my hand to another. I will “sing the tune without the words”. I will as the prophet foretold, strive to be filled with the spirit of the elders who still “dream dreams so that the young can still have visions”. I will not focus on my lack of crumbs to lay down in finding my way to Hope, but I will merely consent to allowing Hope to come find me. I will determine within myself to be hopeful about tomorrow, so that there is something more for the children to inherit.

Jane Tawel

Written by

Jane Tawel is a writer and teacher. She lives in the greater Los Angeles area. You can read more on her blog at https://janetawel.com/

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