Having Hope When Hope Feels Hard

I try to run five or six times a week, between four to six miles per day. During these runs I think about all sorts of things, but on occasion my mind moves to the apocalyptic–what would happen if during this run gravity stopped working, or there was a massive wave of water, or zombies emerged from the fields–what would I possibly do? And when I start to get agitated by this, suddenly my brain thinks, “oh, don’t forget to grab creamer at the store today.” It’s like my brain knows it has to stop itself. I leave the “what-ifs” and go back to the day at hand.

On Friday night, after hearing the news about Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death, my mind moved to the apocalyptic. I started thinking about what a conservative super majority court would mean for everyone in my communities. I started to catastrophize, which was unfortunate because I planned to do some work that night. Instead I read the articles and comments and stories, all the hot takes about what would happen next. Yet, after about thirty minutes of this, my brain thought, “dinner! you need to make dinner!” so I turned on Murder, She Wrote and threw together a pasta dish. I didn’t return to the news.

I think about this, the brain’s capacity to catastrophize and calm down, any time something major happens, and right now that’s pretty much every day with our current government.

Not going to lie–on Friday night, even though my brain had calmed down, I was still feeling overwhelmed, with a nice side of dread. But then I saw that someone commented on my tweet announcing my upcoming talk with, “can’t explain how excited I am for for this talk!” And when I checked my email it was full of Black women interested in participating in a study led by two Black women graduate students I work with. Later, two students sent long messages about their research studies, feeling energized by our class conversation and their new directions. All these reminders that the world continues to turn, even when it feels like it should stop.

Ten years ago, when I was teaching a multicultural education course at Iowa State University, one student asked, “How can you keep teaching this class? Nothing seems to change! It all seems futile!” I paused and thought about that–because yes, at times it seems futile. But then I said to her, “Maybe it is. But since I’m already here on the planet, I’m going to do my best to make it a better one. There are a lot of people who thought things would never change, and they did. For the best. So I’m going to err on the side of hope.”

Hope is hard. Hope requires enthusiasm. Hope requires a sense of wonder, a belief in possibility. Hope requires working toward change, not knowing how long that change will take.

I do not know how the rest of the semester will unfold and I certainly don’t know what is going to happen in my greater local, national, and global world. What I do know is that my hope takes the form of mentoring students, it exists in my ongoing projects, it drives my desire to reimagine the university community. And these things need to continue, especially when it seems like the world is plotting against them.

Where there is no hope, it is incumbent on us to invent it. — Albert Camus

Join me, fellow hope inventors, in creating the worlds we want, even when it seems hard.

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