Hope helps.

I am saving time on Thursdays to work on blog posts, and I find myself sorting through topics both light and heavy. A lot is going on, and there never seems to be a right time to post anything, no matter what it is. Yet what I’ve landed on today is the concept of hope.

I’ve written before that I know people, am possibly married to one, who consider pessimism realistic and anything other than pessimism either misguided or literally detrimental.

I sometimes counter that in my experience, throughout history there have been reasons for joy and reasons for sorrow, though of course, sometimes more of one than the other. There are always reasons to look to the future with dread and optimism. I don’t think we can know what lies ahead, though of course we can worry about it. And we can certainly worry about what is happening in the present. There is a lot to worry about, frankly, and every time I scan newspaper headlines or the words of activists, there is definitely a sense that the dystopia is upon us.

I had the amazing luck to be raised by parents who taught me we have a responsibility to one another and our community, so I certainly don’t think we can ignore what is going wrong.

But I don’t know how to live up to my responsibilities without cultivating hope. What I hope for may not happen. Sometimes, when I think of things I hoped for in the past—or at least, when I dreamed of exciting adventures, I’m a bit relieved some of them never happened. What you hope for in your fifties is different, I guess, than what looks inviting to a young person. And let me add this— thank heavens for young people and their energy and willingness to reach for goals which would tire me out now.

I try to make sense of how other people think, and I know some people hate to hope for something and then be disappointed. So maybe that’s where we differ. Just the experience of hope is a positive in my life, even if some of my hopes don’t work out. Hope is like taking a deep breath before I start anything. When someone asks me for help, which happens in my line of work, there can sometimes be reasons to worry that I won’t be able to help. But a spark of hope, the thought of how wonderful if I could help even a little, gives me oxygen, and we muddle our way forward.

The news lately is a whirlwind of doom with the occasional flash of farce. I am worried. I know that hoping for a better future for our world—both the people and the natural environment we depend upon—is not especially logical.

But hope helps.

Time traveler blues

These days I teeter, as I think many of us do, between joy in my daily life and despair over what is not being done to save our environment, —or, for that matter, our democracy.

More often than I like, I think about how a response to the history of the rise of Nazism and the atrocities that followed is to wonder, if it were possible to travel through time to warn everyone, could we stop what happened?

Brighter people than I already know the answer to this question.

Decades ago, I learned that a beloved Jewish couple in our community had lived in Britain in their twenties during World War II before immigrating to the United States. I gathered my courage to ask if they knew anything about the concentration camps before the war ended, and they said everyone heard rumors that they assumed were propaganda, too awful to be credible.

I imagine a time traveler from twenty or thirty years in the future risking everything to warn us about the need to protect our environment and to elect more democratic leadership. He or she could arrive in 2016, or perhaps even next year in 2020, and tell us of the great human suffering that even now is unfolding.

Here’s a snapshot of this week in America–basic human rights are trampled in pursuit of short-term financial gains for the few, including brutal treatment of refugees, particularly children. Devastating floods and mass shootings are on the rise. Our election systems are under constant attack by international adversaries, yet the Senate’s response is to dismantle election protections. As for the environment, just when we desperately need to make courageous and sweeping changes in hopes of sustaining life on this planet, our administration is pushing full-steam ahead with policies to make things worse, not better. Stop me if I tell you something you didn’t already know.

That’s what our time traveler will learn: We already know, though some may dismiss it as propaganda, and others as God’s will.

As I ponder the history of the past few centuries, we have often faced threats and heard warnings, and I can find a few examples in which we managed to make some advances in terms of saving the environment and expanding democratic rights.

Still, knowing we are in danger has not been enough. I wonder what our time traveler would do next, in the face of so much inertia? Perhaps the same as we must. Knock on any door that will open, push for better political solutions, bring up the topics no one wants to discuss, refuse to accept inaction, even in the face of those who embrace it as ideology.

And take time now and then to hold our loved ones close and savor perfect fall mornings, because time is slipping away.



I ended on a cynical note last time, so today I’d like to open up on a less cynical one. Hmm. After I wrote those words, I sat for a moment staring at a blank screen, which strikes me as a bit ironic. But I really am a glass-is-half-full kinda woman (married, by the way, to a glass-is-not-only-half-empty-but-it-probably-has-a-leak kinda man, so perhaps we balance each other out).

If you’ve picked up any vibes from me on this blog, I am a bit worried about the future of our planet. And the state of democracy, especially the rise of autocrats. And lately it feels as if human suffering on this planet is not being addressed not because it is a hard problem to solve (which it is) but *because* keeping people in desperate situations literally empowers autocrats and millionaires.

You may be wondering where my less cynical note is. I realize I wrote the statement above because it always seems insensitive to speak optimistically when so many people face so many challenges. I am yet to find a graceful and concise way to recognize this fact. Indeed, to speak of one concern is to risk appearing indifferent to other struggles. You know, I like the phrase YMMV, “Your mileage may vary,” as a way to recognize that what works for me may not be experienced the same way by someone else, for many reasons, including institutionalized discrimination. Perhaps there already is a phrase out there that would work here, but until it floats before me, I think I will try creating my own: IKIAMS—“I know I am missing something.” Or FITB Fill-in-the-blank. Write in what you see as the greatest struggle, the most urgent concern.

So there is always FITB, that which I don’t know how to articulate or address when I make an attempt to be optimistic, yet I will be optimistic anyway.

Why? Because autocrats and people-who-promote-suffering benefit from pessimism. So even if we must recognize that FITB exists, we can be radical and subversive by being optimistic anyway. To say, maybe the suffering can be reduced. Maybe democracy will resurge. Maybe we can heal the planet. Maybe we can heal one another. I will say maybe, because I don’t know the future. But neither do the autocrats and those-who-promote-suffering.

I also, oddly enough, find something optimistic in considering the idea that suffering empowers autocrats and millionaires. Besides various historical and political events that might support this claim, I am thinking of a Last Week Tonight analysis of how investors are buying up mobile home parks because mobile home owners are helpless customers—a deeply disturbing story.

What is optimistic in this rather dark vision of the world is that it means that every act to reduce suffering, to provide, for example, food, medical care, opportunity, or agency to another person—or even just an encouraging word, is to increase democracy and undermine the power of autocrats and corrupt individuals. Choose your FITB. We might not be able to fix everything all at once, but we can take one step every day to comfort and empower one another (including ourselves). To reject those who want us to fear one another and to embrace helplessness in the face of great challenges. They are out to make a buck and/or to indulge in delusions of grandeur. We are here for each other.

Small steps you can take to save the planet

Inspired by David Wallace-Wells’ op-ed in the New York Timesfear-panic-climate-change-warming.html

  • Set up a bin for recycling next to your trash can so it will be super easy to toss that aluminum can in the right spot. While you are at it, call your representatives to tell them to support H.R. 1 to make voting just as convenient.
  • Walk and bike more often than you drive. Explore video conferencing options rather than fly to a regional meeting. While you are it, support candidates who aren’t afraid to talk about alternative forms of transportation.
  • Try eating less meat and more vegetables and fruit. After this satisfying meal, go vote for candidates who don’t have trouble pronouncing the word “science.”
  • When you shop, look for labels that say… oh forget it, just vote for people who have effective comprehensive plans to address climate change so we don’t have to lose our freaking minds worrying about every single thing we do.