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reimagine everything, recommit to hope as a practice, hold each other from a distance
the world is never going to be the same, and times are scary. we must commit to hope as a practice and hold each other, metaphorically, to make it through all this.
Things are bleak. That’s why I’m writing this to you during a typically off week. There are a lot of reasons for despair right now. I understand that. I have a message of hope for you all right now, though, and I’d like for you to read very carefully, and keep this message with you to re-read in times when you might need it.
The first thing I’ll say is that it’s okay if you don’t feel like letting yourself be hopeful or joyful right now. It’s more than okay to grieve all your futures—the futures you thought you were going to have, that just seemed to be a given. That concert you were going to go to next Friday. Your friend’s birthday party. Holding that best friend you haven’t seen in a year when they came to visit you this summer. Then the bigger things—the things that maybe seemed so much smaller before today: simply being in the same room as the people you live, hearing their voices trickle through your ears like water from the faucet rinsing over all the unclean dishes of your emotions, slowly scaring the dirt of our lives away. It’s okay if you are numb and can’t feel anything at all right now. I’d say that’s a pretty realistic response to trauma caused by global crisis.
If hope seems like a farce or a knife in your side right now, you are not a cynical person. You are human. Hard times often do feel like a knife in your side. Like sitting on a chair rocking back and forth, the feeling right before you’re about to fall to the floor and you feel your stomach lurch. The uncertainty of it all, and yet the certainty that things will never be the same again, and we didn’t quite prepare enough.
Next, I’ll say that once we are each individually, and maybe collectively apart, done grieving the futures we thought we were going to have—the things we took for granted, the lives we lead that will now be immeasurably different in so many ways—because we must be done at some point, because we cannot stay in the darkness forever, we need to plan a vastly different world and way to be with each other. A vastly different way to be to each other.
While that might feel difficult or terrifying, which it is because change is always scary, this is not all cause for despair but rather cause for celebration. We have a cause to unite us and bring us together (metaphorically, of course, I mean… it looks like we’re going to have to social distance and isolate together for quite a long time), to make the world a better place. In my heart, I believe we have already always had this reason, we were all just in such different places that we could not see clearly what we owe to each other.
I’m not trying to be dismissive of anyone’s suffering. Trust me. Your grief and suffering right now is very real and very valid. The disabled people, immunocompromised people, people of color and Black people, immigrants and migrants, people in prisons, queer people, trans people—all of the most marginalized, at risk people who are scared are valid and right in this moment that there is so much to be afraid of. But then there always has been for us.
So alongside or after our grief, friends, we must build a better world together.
Here is a glimmer of hope for you:
I’ve mentioned this before many times in articles, in tweets, in this newsletter, but here it is. While I never experienced anything quite like this pandemic with the economy tanking and cities around the world shutting down, barring contact and ordering social distancing, with shelter-in-place orders rapidly increasing, I was however mostly trapped in my bedroom hiding from my abusive parents for a majority of the first 18 years of my life.
I spent a lot of time crying, a lot of my time building fairy kingdoms from supplies I bought at Michael’s with money I found on the ground or borrowed from a friend. I looked out the window a lot. I loved the birds. I loved imagining what they were saying to each other. I painted a lot. I read a lot. I got really good at singing, and writing, and imagining. I got really good at caring—imagining all of the things I would do in the world when I left the room I was trapped in, who I would be when I got out.
This grief and suffering of dead futures, total entrapment, and limited possibilities is most of what I felt all that time I was stuck in my room for 18 years.
I despaired constantly because I could see no way out—no light at the end of the tunnel. I figured I would spend my entire life miserable, alone, suffering, because I would always be trapped and abused, and that no one had believed me when I tried to tell them what was happening before and no one would ever believe me. I was hopeless because I believed I would never escape. The problem was that I’d never known anything else in my life—I had always been trapped, so I didn’t know if it was possible not to be. The good news for all of us, here and now, is that we have so much more to hold onto than I did during those 18 years. We’ve seen the outside world. People have believed us. And we’ve believed in ourselves. And that is how I know that at least some of us will make it out of this and we will find that light at the end of this tunnel.
Here, have a gift. A piece of brightness in darkness. This is one of my favorite houses in Brooklyn that is bright yellow and towering over all the others, not because it’s taller but because it is joyful. Some bright things are harder to see. Not this bright house. It reminds me there are great big towering joyful things in this life in the middle of everything else.
How did I get out of the room, you ask?
There were some very kind people in my life who finally believed me about what I was going through, reminded me that there was a light at the end of tunnel, that I would not always be trapped, that there was a whole world outside of that room and when I got out, I would fling myself into it like a slingshot of joy and good things. They were right. But I had to drastically change my mindset about what was possible, and what I myself am capable of, to find the energy to put in the effort to get out of the room. One particularly bad day when I was 16 years old, my abusive mother who was also a compulsive spender, spent all of the (already very little) money that we had in the world—with total disregard for me and my father. She was in a manic state and she couldn’t stop. At this point, I was going into my junior year of high school, maybe, and had a huge essay to write for my AP History course. My laptop that I’d had for three years had broken the week before and my mother told me she would buy me a new one, because I needed it for school, even though we didn’t quite have the money for it. The day that she spent all of our money, I felt like I was done. She’d spent my whole life mistreating me and making my life difficult. But doing this one thing felt so particularly cruel to me—because I cared about school so much, because I loved learning, and because it was my escape from my house—and I couldn’t bare it. I tried to take myself out of the world that day. I failed, and I am glad I did all these years later, because there were people who loved me and came to find me on my bathroom floor. Because there were people who helped me see that even though the tunnel I was in was very real, so was the outside of the tunnel.
The next week, I sat in my social worker, Ms. Bacal’s office at school. She helped me write a plan of action. She helped me start figuring out jobs, ways to stay out of the house, places to go when I felt unsafe, and she helped me start planning for college. She told me I was not trapped, even though it felt like it, and that I had less than two years until I could leave and go wherever I wanted. Sitting in her office that day, I made a very difficult decision.
I made the choice—one that is still difficult every day of my life as someone with complex PTSD, anxiety and OCD—to build and strengthen hope as a muscle. To be someone who clings to joy, and vows to infuse the world with it. To cultivate hope and joy intentionally, as not simply an emotion but as a practice.
I got out of the room.
After I finished my senior year of high school, I left and went to college 3,000 miles away. I worked multiple jobs at once, always, took classes full time until I left four years later and then took classes part time while working a full time job and doing freelance journalism and also taking classes part time still. I ultimately got a restraining order against my parents last year.
I’ve been building the life I never dreamed was actually possible while locked in my room as a kid. And it’s taken all the hope in my body to do it. It has taken all the hope in the outside world.
The point of my story is this: all is not ever lost.
And now I want to be the person to remind you that the tunnel we are in is very real, indeed, so is the outside of the tunnel. So is the light at the end.
Even if things are bad and terrible for 18 years, even if lots of hard things happen, there is still so much that is possible to turn around and work on through the cultivation and intention of hope. Hope as a practice. Not all of us will be able to see the light outside. Not all of us want to see it. Not all of us will get to see it. I wish I could say that wasn’t true. Not all of us will be okay. It would be naive to think that. These are just the facts.
I know hope can’t cure disease. I wish it could. I myself am immunocompromised and at risk and very, very scared. But I can’t let go of the cliff of hope I’ve been hanging onto for years. The cliff needs me to keep it from crumbling. And I need it.
And I have to believe that if as many of us as possible keep trying to love each other and build a better world through this, hope is possible. Change is possible.
We just have to reimagine everything.
Sending all my love to you and yours and hope you are staying so safe inside,
P.S. Here’s a playlist I made to get through this. There’s a lot of good music on it. I hope it brings you some small piece of hope or joy.
Here’s a small taste of it below. Some music is Feel Good, some music is Feel Bad and Sit in It, some music is Maybe Someday We’ll Feel Better.