The Necessity of Hope

Way back when, as a young!Merc, I attended a gun safety class. One session had a slide show about wilderness survival.

A [generalized “average”] human can survive:

3 weeks without food
3 days without water
3 minutes without air
3 seconds without hope

The point was that if you get lost in the wilderness, don’t panic. But it was that last line that stuck with me.

Three. Seconds.

Three seconds without hope.

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No one needs a recap on how horrible the political climate is right now. It’s bad. It’s terrifying.

So many of my friends are struggling and scared and hurting. So am I.

We have already lost people. We will lose more. It hurts so fucking much to say that. To realize that some of us, when hope is lost, will not be here tomorrow.

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Here’s a thing about depression. It’s inside your head. It’s right there, often inescapable (how can you get away from your own brain?) chewing up your thoughts and telling you horrible lies. Depression eats hope. And when the hope is gone, sometimes the depression wins.

I don’t know if the three-second example is accurate–it may be a very personal timeframe, or it may not. But the basis is true: we need hope to live.

All of us.

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We’re storytelling creatures who thrive on narrative. We understand story on an instinctive level. We see and experience and feel, and we weave these things into a narrative: our story, the stories of others, the stories we choose to tell and see and believe.

So let’s say that you read a lot, or watch visual media, or otherwise consume a classical idea of narrative structure on one form of sensory input or another. You read and read and read, absorbing all these ideas about how life works, how people work, how emotions work. And sometimes these stories aren’t satisfying, or sometimes they are upsetting, and sometimes they are both and you don’t know why.

It takes awhile to level up enough to be able to decrypt why some stories bother you more than others. And when you get it, you can’t stop thinking about it (just like that slide in the presentation years ago).

The stories without hope leave you cold. Or worse, they hurt.

Because here’s the thing: we learn from stories. The ones that offer hope? However dark or grim they may be, however much pain and loss they may hold, if they have that hope at the end, these stories tell you: you can survive this.

The ones that don’t tell you something equally powerful: why bother?

(That is a lie the depression tells you, sometimes. “What is the point? Why do you keep fighting? Don’t you know you’re worthless?” The thing is, depression is a lying liar who lies, but it’s very hard to see that, sometimes, or reject the lies.)

“Hopeless” is used as an insult. When you think about it, it’s a terrible, terrible word. One who is without hope is one who is unlikely to live.

And I want you–I want all of us–to live.

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I found a cache of young!Merc writings earlier this month as I was moving. I glanced through some of them. Laughed at the terrible prose, but a little sadly–because young!Merc was so desperate to figure out how to survive, even if young!Merc didn’t know it at the time, and that pain and desperation came out in grim, violent narratives. And yet, in all the darkness, there was always a tiny speck of hopefulness.

Because even young!Merc recognized that they needed that to survive.

If not all stories would give them hope, then they would carve it out of despair and cling to it for all they were worth.

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Not everyone needs the same things from stories. Not everyone needs to hear the same thing. Personal taste is personal. That’s okay! And ‘dark’ or ‘grim’ does not mean lack of hope in a story. It’s not a binary. Hope-stories are not all fluff and light.

How do you define it? I don’t know. Sometimes that’s equally personal.

For me, I can tell you that when everything is darkness/despair/grimdark/unhappiness, when there is rampant nihilism and disregard for any sense of joy, that is likely to be a story without hope. And I don’t want to experience that.

Look at real life. We have enough fucking horriblness to go around ten zillion times, that I don’t want to fight through a narrative that mimics that level of awful and find that none of the struggle mattered.

I need the stories that bolster hope; hope is fighting against the depression and the darkness. It’s fighting with everything we’ve got, in whatever means we can–not everyone can resist in the same way, and that is more than okay. It is necessary. We need multiple paths of resistance; activism is multi-varied, like the people who activate it.

Whether you write, or speak, march or stay back to keep others afloat (and yourself), call on the phone or email, stay low-key to protect yourself and others or shine on the front lines…all of this matters. No one thing is inherently “better” than another. The thing that is most important to know is: YOU matter. You are necessary and needed and I want you to stay, if you can.

Fighting against the darkness and oppression is not always a visible or violent show. Sometimes it is quieter, and just as fierce. Perhaps it is writing fiction that can reach out to others and tell them: you are not alone, and we can do this.

I write; that is part of my resistance against the awful and the dark and despair. I will keep writing.

Ada Hoffmann wrote a brilliant, moving essay “On hope and voices” that I encourage you to read in full.

And art. Art. Please, if you are reading this, keep believing in your art, in your stories or paintings or songs or whatever it is that you do.

We can build each other up with our art, with our will, with our hope, with our fierce and undying courage to resist the apathy and despair.

Hope wants more than three seconds. It wants a lifetime.

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Not all my stories are joy and light and happiness. Some of them are dark. Sometimes we need the dark to contrast the things that are brighter.

But when I write, when I consider new stories I want to tell, need to tell, I ask myself, “Can this story help extend those three seconds just a little longer, so the reader can get to the next thing and continue on?”

And I try, I try so hard, to make the answer “Yes.”

leave a footprint in the snow

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