Thursday, March 24, 2011

Out of Despair, Hope

The nature of human resilience amazes me. In my 9th grade English class, we were assigned to read the short story "Torture by Hope" by Villiers. This tale of the Spanish Inquisition, in which man's capacity to envision some better outcome to current circumstances is manipulated as an instrument of torture, has remained within me for 40 years now. My personal experiences with hope and despair illustrated for me the necessity for replenishing my spiritual and emotional reserves. During periods when my external circumstances were such that getting through each day left me drained and raw, I found myself increasingly unable to engage with others in any meaningful way. That inability prevented me from taking any actions in which the reciprocal exchange of goodwill with another human could help to replenish my soul. As a result, I spent months wandering in an abyss of spiritual emptiness from which any glimmering of hope was beyond my ken. The emptiness created a sense of despair so bleak that, in remembering it now, I marvel that I was able to find a way through the despair and emptiness to renew my spirit and build a new life

So, what is hope? To me, hope is the seed from which a positive vision of the future is cultivated. Without hope, the ability to envision a future better than the now is not possible. Hope and despair coexist in each of us, the degree to which we feel one or the other emotion fluctuating as we interact with the world and each other. Those who feel despair within their lives may find a path to change through the seed of hope, but first they must be able to find that seed.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

In Which I Fly In, then Out, of the Cuckoo's Nest

Thinking about the year 1993 still makes me feel a bit queasy. That is the year during which the very tenuous balance I established after my long-term disability payments were cut off was shattered. I had been depressed and distressed 5 years earlier when I lost my home to foreclosure; in 1993, though, I gave up, I just gave up. I gave up trying to stay connected to a world in which my ideals about equity, justice, and fair treatment seemed subject to continual betrayal. Although the culminating misfortune during that year was becoming homeless, the catalyst for that event was a night of extreme emotional turmoil in September that ended with a 3 days of involuntary observation in the psychiatric ward at SF General.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Creating Sanctuary from Nothing

In listening to the stories of Japanese whose homes and communities have been destroyed by earthquake and tsunami, I can empathize with their sense of the world being out of joint, of living in a nightmare.  My own experience with homelessness derived from personal demons preying on my sense of self.  Theirs has been created by a planet reacting to subtle internal shifts without regard for the living creatures scrabbling for meaning on its surface. Despite these differences in origin, when I heard the quote from a man in Miyagi Prefecture saying. This isn't a bad dream, this is real. I've lost my boat, everything. In the shelter, people are supporting each other," my heart was torn with understanding of the psychic damage afflicting the Japanese right now.

Beyond the immediate needs for a warm place to sleep and sustenance for the body, the Japanese may need caring and encouragement to sustain their souls for years to come. One encouraging aspect of the Japanese response to the series of successive disasters has been the manner in which their communitarian culture has helped to maintain order.  I hope that as the situation stabilizes all of us can draw strength from the example set before us by the response of the Japanese people to the horrific events that they are forced to confront. I reflect on my own experiences though, and those reflections give me hope for the resilience of the human mind and body.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bright Spots in Dark Times - Japan

Among the string of horrible news from Japan, there have been a few bright spots.

Among others:

A 60 year old man was rescued from 9 miles out to sea on Sunday A tweet to MSNBC's Ann Curry helped an American family locate a relative who had been in Minamisanriku, a village that was mostly destroyed. A 4 month old baby and her family were recovered alive from Ishinomaki.

Google crisis response information can be found here.

A Penny Saved

While working, I often have cable news on in the background. MSNBC just finished a report indicating that rate of savings from personal disposable income has quadrupled since 2005. Given that many had been living well through substantial credit card debt, this is excellent news for those who have been able to shift from a credit-based model for managing household finances to a savings-based model.  Not so great for the credit card companies profit margin, but I think it is past time for finance companies to adjust their expectations.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

In Which I Introduce Myself

Many years ago, I found acceptance and a community of friends among science fiction fandom. For the first time in my life, I felt welcomed and accepted by a group of smart people who shared my interests. For several years, from 1980 until 1986, I flourished professionally and personally. I began to feel that I'd transcended earlier challenges in my life. I bought a home. I hosted parties. I danced. I enjoyed my friends. I had achieved a modicum of success in my life.

I also lived up to and beyond my means. After all, I was young and healthy, had a good job and excellent prospects for the future.

Then I got the flu, which turned into pneumonia, which became chronic fatigue syndrome.