On Hope

“Hope,” Rebecca Solnit writes in an essay from 2016, “is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable. … Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act.”

I bookmarked Solnit’s essay over a year ago, which means it’s been sitting in my backlog of articles—everything from Emily Rapp Black’s “Grief Magic” to an interview with Carmen Maria Machado—for over a year. I remember scrolling past an excerpt on Tumblr and thinking to myself, hope, like it was something I could conjure by speaking its name. Hope.

I bookmarked it. I had every intention of reading it. And, years after I first saved it, I finally did.

I’ve been having a low-grade anxiety attack for what seems like forever. I’m a feeler, so as much as I want to keep up with everything happening in the world these days, I struggle to find a balance between healthy engagement and complete and total overwhelm. There’s always something going on, and it’s rarely ever something good. So I retweet. I donate. I meditate when I can. I try to journal every morning, and when it gets to be too much, I lose myself in D&D or my favorite Pinterest board, because even I know that I can’t be plugged in all the time.

I was panicking about climate change when Solnit came to me—calculating my ecological footprint; predicting how many years of civilized society I, a twenty-something disabled woman, have left. I was angry, grieving. Bitter. The world has been selling me this idealized version of a normal life for decades, and it’s only just hitting me that all the things I once felt entitled to—birthdays and anniversaries, houseplants, some semblance of a career—may not actually come to pass.

Grief. Bitterness. Adrienne Rich once described herself as having two selves, anger and tenderness, and in that moment I wanted it all: the rage of grief, but also the attention of Mary Oliver, how every breath was in its own way a devotion.

But then Rebecca. Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. In that moment, rage, attention, but also an understanding: we act because we must.

*

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief, says Rabbi Tarfon. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work but neither are you free to abandon it.

*

My book is about endings, specifically the end of the universe. But it is more about hope: spaciousness of uncertainty, and in that spaciousness, room to act.

In that moment, Solnit’s words pressing down on me, I thought of my book, the characters I’ve been writing for nearly half my life. In their world, the stars have gone out. The universe is sick, no one knows how much time is left, and so there’s this underlying sense of anxiety. There is no promise, no evidence of meaning—just a space where the stars once were, and whatever lies beyond.

Doctor Who has always influenced my writing of the characters, the spaciousness of uncertainty they inhabit. For all their flaws, the early seasons were magical in their reflection of tension. As a high schooler with dreams of writing a book, those seasons were everything I wanted from a fairy tale. They had darkness and uncertainty; they had beginnings and endings. They embraced fear of the unknown just as much as they embraced its beauty.

We’re falling through space, you and me, the Doctor says to Rose Tyler. Clinging to the skin of this tiny little world, and if we let go…

Grief. Bitterness. Anger. But in that moment, that spaciousness of uncertainty, there is something incredible. At its best, Doctor Who leans into the spaciousness of uncertainty, never once shying away from the complicated truth of life: that we live and die, sometimes in the span of a second, and somewhere in that grief there is also beauty.

My characters grieve. They rage and scream. They fling themselves at the dark of a dying universe. There are moments of grief, but there are also moments of love. If my characters die, they will die together, knowing they did the incredible.

They lived.

*

What do I do every day? Rose asks her mom, facing the spaciousness of uncertainty. What do I do? Get up, catch the bus, go to work, come back home, eat chips, and go to bed? Is that it?

I ask myself the same question. What do I do? Faced with the enormity of the world’s grief, what can I do? Scrolling through my timeline is, on some days, like flinging myself at the dark of a dying universe. I don’t know what’s going to happen. To hope is to be foolish. But in the spaciousness of uncertainty, what else is there?

Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now.

I think of my characters. I think of Rose, delightful in her hoop earrings and early-2000s crop top. You don’t just give up, she concludes. You don’t just let things happen. You make a stand. You say no. You have the guts to do what’s right when everyone else just runs away.

We act because we must. And so I write, for myself as much as my characters, this narrative I’ve been writing for years—this narrative that, in so many ways, has somehow come to reflect my own. I don’t know the ending to our stories, but I do know this: there is hope to be found in the writing of them. The spaciousness of uncertainty is nothing but a work-in-progress in which we find room to act.