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.

In recent days, the young people of Middle Eastern countries have sparked a wave protest and revolution against regimes that offer them little hope of a better life. Young Libyans took the seed of hope, sown in Tunisia and Egypt, and cultivated a revolution against the oppressive regime of Moammar Gaddafi. Among the voices documenting that revolution was that of Mohammed Nabbour. Mohammed used his love for his people and the technological skills developed at university to create Libya Alhurra TV. He documented the voices of the Libyan people and broadcast them to the world. In doing so, he provided a seed of hope to the Libyans yearning for freedom. Hope that their struggle would not be suppressed, unheard and unseen. Hope that they might take back their country from a madman. Hope that their children would grow into a brighter future.

As I write, a coalition of forces authorized by the United Nations is trying to restrict the military capacity of the Gaddafi regime. Revolutionary forces seek to regain the ground they lost during the past week. And, regretfully, Mohammed Nabbous was killed by sniper fire on Saturday, March 19. We don't yet know the outcome of the Libyan Revolution, nor the ones in Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain, but the seed of hope sown in Tunisia on January 14 has germinated and is growing stronger. My hope is that their hopes reach maturity and produce a society in which all members have the opportunity for a fulfilling life.

In the United States, I listened spellbound to NPR last night as the story of Brock Savelkoul was recounted. Brock, an Iraq Vet, suffering the double whammy of PTSD and TBI lost hope. Fell so deep into the morass of despair and dysfunction that he took off from his father's home with half a dozen firearms and his truck. His objective; suicide by cop. Without the keen observation and compassion demonstrated by Officer Megan Christopher, he might have achieved that objective. From the NPR story:

Savelkoul, 29, walked slowly toward the officers. He gestured wildly with his gun. "Go ahead, shoot me! ... Please, shoot me," he yelled, his face illuminated in a chiaroscuro of blazing spotlights and the deepening darkness. "Do it. Pull it. Do I have to point my gun at you to ... do it?"

Instead, this story has a less disturbing end. The nearly 3 hour standoff in a North Dakota farm field ended with Brock's surrendering the guns after Megan's repeated requests. Though charged with felonies, through the intervention of a veteran's advocate from the VA, Brock was transferred to an in-patient treatment program and his sentence suspended while he undergoes treatment. Six months later, now, and he speaks of having regained his hope. The NPR video is below; the full ProPublica story is here:

Hope. For those in dreadful circumstances, suffering misery and degradation, hope may seem of little value. What good is it, after all? Hope cannot feed you, clothe you, or provide shelter. Without hope, though, without the capacity to envision some achievable alternative to a current circumstance, the will to continue striving in life seeps away.

Despite the horrific stories that are coming out of the Middle East, the Midwest of America, Japan, glimmers of hope shine through the bleak conditions. The popular uprisings in the Middle East could not have occurred if he young people who started the protests had had no hope for a better future. The middle class families looking for ways to take action against legislative tyranny by Republican majorities in their states would not be making the effort if they felt no hope that they could effect change through their actions. In Japan, neighbors and families banded together to structure a community in the face of horrific devastation and isolation; in part, through the hope that they could survive independently.

Whatever else happens in life, the seed of a living hope may be one of the major characteristics that allows human beings to transcend and survive the vagaries of the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment