“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
–Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Summer is always a strange season for me. It’s the exception to my school year norm, and I am keenly aware of the clock that’s ticking a countdown to the start of the next year; nothing sets a summer teacher off quite like a premature “back-to-school” display at the office supply store. But while there is an urgency about what I want to accomplish (and grudging acceptance of the fact that my goals are almost certainly too ambitious), the days feel long, long enough for me to come untethered. I am not in my familiar environs. I am not on my familiar schedule. I am wearing jeans each day, as I longed to for nine months, but there are not nearly enough teenagers in my daily life and that is an alien, disconcerting sensation.
Perhaps everything is heightened right now because this is not just any summer, but one full of conscious transition. (After all, how rare is it to know that a particular season is going to change you before it actually does the changing?) The contrast between my daily concerns and lists, the overwhelm I sometimes feel when mentally scrolling through the tasks involved in selling and buying and packing up houses, and the gut-twisting horror and anguish that lives on the other side of even one minute of fully considering the current news—what do I do with that gulf? How do I hold any of it responsibly, thoughtfully, compassionately?
I really don’t know, and I’m not certain that I ever will; in fact, I might argue that it would mark the detrimental loss of my plugged-in aliveness if I managed to reach some sort of equilibrium with this human mess, to be “okay” in it. I am not okay. I don’t want to be okay. I want to be outraged and outspoken and exhausted but not to the point of being useless. I want to remain open to the world inspiring me as much as it devastates me. I want to feel as if I am doing a pretty good job with this living business while also knowing that it will never be enough.
There is a distinction between hope and wishful thinking; a friend taught me that a few years ago, and I’ll always be grateful. I carry that distinction around in my back pocket, pull it out when I am trying to determine which is charting the course of my behavior. Wishful thinking feels like an escape, like a way out, like a relief. Hope feels like a practice, like a rigorous discipline, like sitting down to work your way through something difficult but necessary. Reading smart authors who challenge me gives me hope. Being in community gives me hope. Holding brand-new babies gives me hope. Writing gives me hope.
In that vein, I am offering a journal class that begins next week, one that I have designed to hopefully speak to this particular moment, one inside which many of us are struggling and searching. You can read more about the course here; if you’re interested, I’d love to have you join. Please note that $5 from each registration will go to the Family Reunification and Bond Fund at RAICES, which you’ve probably heard of by now. I also plan to make the course materials available for purchase later on in the summer, if you want to work through them on your own or at another time.
Tell me you’re reading or thinking about that you’re finding useful these days. How do you practice hope?