Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Hope in the Dark

I've been reading Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit, to give me, yes, hope in the dark. It was first published back in 2004, so this is a third edition, published by Haymarket Books in 2016, with an updated Foreword and Afterword to give new context to hopeful thinking that continues even now. Even now.

I picked it up at the ongoing library book sale, meaning I am supporting my library and its non-profit foundation, and started reading it December 1, the beginning of Advent. This cover is perfect, bright white like stars on a dark night. When I set it down, I set it down beside a Christmas card of white lights on a snowy tree in a dark night, with "Silent Night" printed beside the image, a card from my next-door neighbor. The book is part of my holiday decorating now. Along with ebony heads from Africa and a black mask from Mexico, and a silver bird.

What's so wonderful, comforting, and inspiring about this book is its embrace of uncertainty and its recorded knowledge of how small, steady acts of quiet resistance or concerted protest moved people to continue to act and change things. Small acts led to big changes, and that is ongoing, and I am participating in this in my own small, steady, local ways. Hope in in the Dark keeps me from despair, yes, and keeps me steadily working. Here, for example, is a paragraph that inspires me, from the Foreword to this third edition:

Hope locates itself in the premises that we don't know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes---you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. It's the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.

I do live among optimists and pessimists, people who choose not to act, and people who cannot tolerate uncertainty. I sympathize with them all but tend to align myself with and gravitate toward those of us who reside in uncertainty, even paradox. Both seem truer to me than most certainties the world offers.

I also recently read How to Fight Anti-Semitism, by Bari Weiss, very enlightening and inspiring. She grew up in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of the Tree of Life synagogue where the terrible mass shooting took place. She had to worry about whether her father was there...he wasn't! (I went to college with her father!) Bari Weiss has hope and offers practical advice. I wrote it all down in my reading journal. She speaks her truth, however controversial, however...certain.

And look at the coincidence of black and white. I'd add her book to my holiday decor, but it was a library book, a new one, a 7-day book, and I already took it back to share with other readers.

Oh, my dears. Hang on, hang on in the darkness. It is the season of light!

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