How Hope Can Save Us
If you're like me, you have spent the last week reveling in the fact that we have new leadership in Washington. Inauguration Day itself, though very different from what we’ve witnessed before, was filled with promise, creativity, wisdom, and deep commitment. Our heads are filled with images of powerful female political figures, compelling young performing artists, a deeply sincere and honest new president and vice president, and tremendous relief. And even in the midst of a day devoted to pomp and circumstance, Biden and Harris actually went to work and began to make things happen.
It’s almost difficult to believe that so much that we have lamented for the last four years is already beginning to change—protection for Dreamers and LGBTQ people, commitments to the environment and to equity and anti-racism, and an enormous push to deal more proactively and effectively with COVID-19. As so many people have felt in this first week, our belief that things could improve has been strengthened, or perhaps it never left. As the brilliant inaugural poet Andrea Gorman wrote, “Even as we hurt, we hoped.”
Each of us individually needs to believe that we are worthy of promise and possibility.
I grew up in a family that looked fine on the surface, but was always kind of crumbling underneath. Interwoven into our lives was a combination of depression, anxiety, and alcohol, in a period of time when few people knew how to manage those elements effectively. All of that made me a pretty scared kid. I didn’t fear anything tangible exactly, but I was always worried that the fraying seams of our family would give and who knows where we’d fall? This might have been colored by the overly dramatic view of a child, but I carried the feeling that wanting something or hoping for something made it impossible. Add to that my "secret" knowledge that I was gay, and I felt doomed. So, I learned quickly not to ask for a lot—sure always that I wasn’t going to get it. I’m certain I was not alone in seeing a limited future ahead of me.
The worst part of this kind of thinking, though, was how I turned it on myself. Not only did I not believe that the world was going to turn in my direction, but I was convinced that I couldn’t even follow through on my own behalf. In other words, my lack of hope extended to what I believed I could do. In my view, that has happened to all of us, in a way, in the midst of an oppressive government and a sweeping pandemic. We have lost hope in the greater good coming to anyone’s rescue and we have felt dejected enough to believe that even our own determination is not enough.
As I watched Kamala Harris take the oath of office last week—and listened to the powerful words of Joe Biden, Amanda Gorman, and Barack Obama—I could almost feel my hope growing. It made me think about how much each of us individually needs to believe that we are worthy of promise and possibility. In my own life, when I was younger and struggling with my own depression, one of my biggest struggles was not knowing how to get myself out of dark holes. I eventually learned that I could get help and that one step could turn into three or four. It took time, but I learned that I could turn things around and that other people were there to help me do it. Nothing happens in any of our lives if we can only see the bottom of the hole. If we all feel that way, as many of us have during the last four years, we’re in deep trouble. This has been a painful and frightening time, particularly for those who have lost people to COVID, to institutional racism, and to ignorance.
When Amanda Gorman said that “there is always light if only we are brave enough to see it; if only we are brave enough to be it,” I cried. Our job is to help each other to be courageous so that we can all see that light. We need to find our hope and to stay awake and aware enough that we can recognize when others are losing it. We are in this together. This is not something we should ever forget.