I sought–and found–refuge in books growing up. My physical world was marred by poverty and abuse within my home, and predators who recognized easy prey outside of it. Within the pages of books, I found escape: virtual worlds in which I could be anyone, anything, anywhere. In other words, I found hope.
I haven’t felt very hopeful the last few months. I’ve read the miserable details of miserable (true) stories that could never have unfolded without my government’s blessing. I’ve learned to see that the current comfort of well off Americans around me is an illusion; the sturdier protections of the past are giving way, so that the payments for having allowed their erosion are slowly coming due.
A couple decades ago, I actively immersed myself in hopeful things to create a protective buffer around myself. These hopeful things were different kinds of salves that eased old wounds, if they didn’t heal them completely. This acted-upon determination to lift myself up by–and to–hope helped me escape the grips of poverty and despair.
I spent a couple of weeks so certain that Earth’s utter destruction’s inevitable, I gave up. I wished I’d just not wake up, and would despair each time I did awaken.
But then something small (outside the scope of this post) really pissed me off, and I found a little fire. It reminded me how I escaped despair before: by seeking hope. When I couldn’t find it inside me, I found it within rectangles of pages.
Early yesterday morning, I ordered a few Verso books. One was George Monbiot’s How Did We Get into This Mess? With almost every page I read this morning, I felt my buffer of hope growing. One essay in particular included exactly the kind of thoughts I needed to read:
So what do we do now?
Some people will respond by giving up, or at least withdrawing from political action. Why, they will ask, should we bother, if the inevitable destination is the loss of so much of what we hold dear … it seems to me there are at least three reasons.
The first is to draw out the losses over as long a period as possible, in order to allow our children and grandchildren to experience something of the wonder and delight in the natural world and of the peaceful, unharried lives with which we have been blessed. …
The second is to preserve what we can in the hope that conditions might change. …
The third is that, while we may possess no influence over decisions made elsewhere, there is plenty that can be done within our own borders.
I wanted to keep plowing through Monbiot’s essays this morning, but I set the book down. I need the remaining essays for fuel when my internal reservoirs of hope are depleted.
What he’d written reminded me of something else I’d read recently. I picked up my copy of Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark and found the passage I was looking for:
In many cases [many scientists whose fields have something to do with climate are] scared, they’re sad, and they’re clear about the urgency of taking action to limit how disastrous climate change is for our species and for the systems we depend upon. Many people outside the loop think that it’s too late to do anything, which, as premature despair always does, excuses us for doing nothing. Though there are diverse opinions quite a lot of insiders think that what we do now matters tremendous, because the difference between the best and worst case scenarios is vast, and the future is not yet written.
Sometimes I can’t find the spark inside myself. In those moments, the answer isn’t to cave in to hopelessness borne of shortsightedness. It’s to seek the flames others have lit, and oh! They’ve lit some soul-warming ones.
As a child, I found hope by reading. Two decades into adulthood, it’s a joy to be Returning By Book … to hope.