In June of 2016 I supported my love Chris as we dealt with the death of both his parents and a co-worker over a three week period. This essay written the summer of those deaths is my attempt to make sense of grief and the struggle to carry all that I care for. Originally published in the anthology You Care Too Much by with/out pretend, the essay Care/Carry/Cure is now available to download for free by visiting www.withoutpretend.com/secrets.
“Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair. I remember the killers, I remember the victims, even as I struggle to invent a thousand and one reasons to hope.
There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. The Talmud tells us that by saving a single human being, man can save the world. We may be powerless to open all the jails and free all the prisoners, but by declaring our solidarity with one prisoner, we indict all jailers…Mankind must remember that peace is not God’s gift to his creatures, it is our gift to each other.”
-Elie Wiesel, 1986 Nobel Lecture
Despair comes from the memory and experience of suffering – oppression, poverty, loss, violence, intolerance, hatred – without hope for a solution or belief in each other our lives become increasingly more bleak and isolated. The response to despair for lots of people, including governments and nations, is to become cynical and cautious. Despair reduces our understanding of life down to a point on the map whether it is our home or a city so we can make that little dot as safe, fortified, and known as possible. Defending our borders from the other – the killers who must be out there. Eventually we can stop dreaming all together.
When we despair there is less possibility for real democracy or a politics of the spirit. How can we imagine ourselves vast and connected when we are hiding behind walls of fear? Is it possible to hope for the future when we distrust the present and regret the past? Before we can really act on our citizenship there is a need to face our own despair in this moment. Each life, every story of loss and love, becomes part of the common treasury we are responsible for as caretakers of the future. Honouring our history does not have to break us, it can instead create a great tenderness for how each life steadily cultivates the future.
Imagine as Adrienne Rich asks: “What would it mean to live in a city whose people were changing each other’s despair into hope?”.
Please friends, despair is easy – let’s give each other a thousand and one reasons to hope.
What is one reason you continue to hope?
People whose lives have been shapedby history—and it is always tragic—do not want to talk about it,would rather dance, give partieson thrift-shop china. You feelwonderful in their homes,two leaky rooms, neststhey stowed inside their heartson the road into exile.They know how to fix potato peelingsand apple cores so you smack your lips.The words start over againhold no terror for them.Obediently they riseand go with only a rucksackor tote bag. If they weep,it’s when you’re not looking.To tame their nightmares, they choosethe most dazzling occupations,swallow the flames in the sunset sky,jump through burning hoopsin their elegant tiger suits.Cover your eyes: there’s onewalking on a threadthirty feet above us—shivering points of lightleap across her body,and she works without a net.
Lisel Mueller, “Virtuosi” from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1996 by Lisel Mueller.
Every day comes complete with 86400 seconds, each one a tiny opportunity to remake ourselves. We can start over again at any time, take the mismatched threads of our lives and weave them into something new. Survivors learn the hard way how everything can be lost in an instant. Jump at every opportunity to live a good life, savour it down to the last scrap. Why wait?