Radical Hope: Letters of Love

I wanted to share a few thoughts from a great book that I just finished, given to me by a dear friend. The book is titled Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times, edited by Carolina De Robertis. The idea came about three days after the 2016 election, when she found herself overwhelmed with grief [sound familiar?], particularly as she reflected on the “increased vulnerability” of so many communities–immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ+, and issues of climate change.

So, she reached out to other writers, asking for love letters in response to this new political climate.

As a letter writer, I didn’t really have to hear her defend “Why letters?” She gives the example of James Baldwin’s letter “My Dungeon Shook,” and argues that “Baldwin showed us that letter-essays, as a form, are perfectly situationed to blend incisive political thoght with intimate reflections, to fold them into a single embrace ” [6]. And as for “love”? “It is love that pushes us to face the journey toward justice without flinching, love that impels us to keep going on the long, hard road, love that provides the moral compass and the map” [6].

This book came together and was published in 2017, but I think it is still a very relevant read–maybe even more so as we approach this election in these very difficult times facing all of us and this nation as a whole. Here are just a few excerpts from the letters:

The power of cultivating “radical hope,” hope that is “directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is” [Junot Diaz, 13].

“Light the small flame of your heart, cup your hands around it to protect it from the savage and the storm, and walk forth into that darkness, because I tell you, that flame, that bit of light you carry, that flickering hope, that has the power to illuminate even the blackest of nights. Hold steady, walk forth, and burn with truth, with love, with compassion, burn brightly because soon, the dawn will come” [Parnaz Foroutan, 68].

“It might help to see from a perspective of decades. Decades before, decades after. Think like a tree. This is one ring, and a tree trunk will have many. This might be just a thin one. Think like a tree, and send those roots down deep digging for water through whatever soil. You will look back on this from better moments, decades hence” [Mohja Kahf, 75].

“For a while now, I have been waiting for a leader to come directed me. A warrior to show me the way. But then it came to me: I am the warrior. So are you. We are called to lead each other through the valley” [Luis Alberto Urrea, 153].

“So Livia, my dearest daughter, it’s up to us–and in the future, it will be up to you–to defend substance, to forge a true path, and a meaningful one. To be fearless, joyful, hopeful. Privileged as we are, we have an obligation to be happy, to work for justice, openness, and generosity whenever possible; to listen fully to complexities and to try our best to understand; to hold the lamp illumined and aloft. No good gesture is wasted, no kindness is otiose. No sacrifice is too great. Each of us must shed light wherever we can. Courage, my love” [Claire Messud, 183].

I want to end this post with some words from the conclusion of Carolina’s own letter, which comes at the beginning of the book. She writes, “It is my hope that the words gathered here will lift you, feed you, shake you awake, offer insight, and help you to feel less alone. They are hear for you, a steady refuge. They are fulll of exquisite courage and profound thruths about thsi moment in the great narrative we call human history, sung in many ovices, with the heart as well as the intellect ablaze. It’s all here. We’re all here” [10]

May this hope, the hope that was carried to you from your ancestors, and that you bear in your hands and heart to your children and grandchildren strengthen and console you with its promise for the future. May all of us embody that hope for each other.

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