As a young adult struggling with depression and insomnia, in the middle of my restless nights I clung to a misremembered bible verse I hoped could inspire my anxious mind to finally shut down for the day: Hope is renewed every morning. (The original comes from Lamentations 3:23 – and is more of a commentary on the finite nature of Old Testament mercy). Truthfully, I did wake up every morning feeling emotionally much more capable than I had as the day drew to a close. I was functioning on limited serotonin levels in those years before a diagnosis of and treatments for major depressive disorder. Sleep brought with it as much rejuvenation as my body could produce on its own at the time. For me, sleep and a renewed day were the balm to the abject sadness I felt when the happiness sapped out of me like a battery losing is charge. Hope was the only word I knew to describe the possibility of a better tomorrow.
In many ways, I still conceptualize hope in relationship to its opposite: despair. Rob Bell defines despair as the belief that tomorrow will be exactly as bad as today – that nothing can change. Hope, in contrast, is the faith that things can change for the better. In this, I no longer believe that hope is magically renewed every day as I used to whisper to my soul in the dark. Sleep in its wonder gave me that ability to hope again by renewing my inner resources required in the formation of hope, but it didn’t give me the thing itself. Years later when I finally started sleeping eight hours a night and found the magic of a well-rested mind, the work of digging away despair was possible at last but not a given. Sadness and despair could still find me on even fully rested mornings.
James Baldwin told an Ebony reporter in 1970, “Hope is invented every day.” The word “invented” I relate to much more closely than the false promise of “renewed” as I make my way in the world. Hope is a changing property, reflective of the surfaces around us at a given moment. We carve out what it needs to look like for the context of the day in which we are rediscovering it. For Baldwin, the words were put forth in the shadow of MLK’s assassination and of the Black writer’s suicide attempt in the depths of his own despair for a world that could brutally kill a peaceful preacher like King, a man whose name became synonymous with the march toward racial equality. Baldwin’s whole life’s work as philosopher and writer had been focused on waking America up to its racist reality and improving the lives of Black people. King’s murder proved that racist America was wide awake and terrified. Baldwin’s conscious observation and creation of hope in that context of his life – that to me is the painful stakes of inventing hope every day.
These meditations on hope come for me at a time when I am running low on the substance. I am grateful for wins for Biden and for many queer and BIPOC candidates across the country, but I cannot stop staring at the center of our nation, carved out by Trumpism in a blatant display of the priorities for white America. My family is torn apart right now and I don’t see a future where we are reunited. The Democratic establishment has failed to put forth policy to meet the material needs of the growing population of rural poor white people, a prerequisite to moving any needles on race in this country. I fear it is too late to undo the damage of underestimating the anger running through the center of our nation. Truth is no longer a mutual agreement but a subjective ideological domain. The weight of the moment and of this endless pandemic are suffocating me.
Yet tomorrow I will wake up and go to work as a barista with a group of people dramatically different from each other but still devoted to texting everyone on their birthdays. I’ll finish applications for law school that will both take me away from Texas for awhile and teach me how to help craft policy and enforce current measures meant to keep people from experiencing economic despair. Today, I am afraid nothing will change but I am hopeful that some day I’ll have tools to change the material circumstances for others. The drumbeat of life continuing on will teach me that I can craft hope by finding joy in and extending some joy to the people I know and that I will meet.
This year has depleted the fount of optimism I didn’t even know I had until it drained. There is not a clear next step in the battle for the soul of our country. Despite those truths, I will wake up tomorrow and I will let myself feel all that comes with existing right now. I do not know what it will be that gets me through, but I know that it will Tonight, my husband and I laughed at a goofy show while eating perfectly crafted tacos. I looked up at him and realized the quiet intimacy of such a routine night was a bright spot in a dark week. Our home felt insulated from the outside for those few giggles over a glass of wine. I have no explanation for how we can still laugh with people we love, enjoy the taste of a good chocolate cake and craft some ordinary for ourselves in the middle of uncertainty, only a borrowed truth I have made my own: “Hope is invented every day.”