Hope as a moral duty

(Some background on this post: This was written with Lou Sullivan’s prompt from Suleika Jaouad’s The Isolation Journals newsletter in mind. Every day, Suleika sends a daily journaling prompt from her favourite writers, artists, and musicians to your inbox, and it is up to you to create something wonderful out of them. Lou, who according to Suleika — tap dances, dresses à la the Blues Brothers to go to chemo, and regularly meditates — is a bright and wonderful kid who is determined to battle cancer once and for all through joy, creativity, and unbridled generosity, and honestly he is such an inspiration. It took me two days to think of what to respond to Lou’s prompt despite my determination to sit down and just type away, but I want to make sure I am writing something that will make Lou, and kids like him proud and never lose hope. Although I do think we are the ones who benefit from the spirit of hope out of Lou’s brilliance. Here goes.)

Your prompt for today (From Lou): Okay, close your eyes. Maybe lie down so you’re cozy? A blanket is nice. Okay. What do you see? At first, it’s dark in there. But if you really look, you will start to see pictures. Maybe it’s a bear with claws, or an ice cream cone, or a memory. Like, cuddling your mom. Maybe it’s words, like LOVE or DANCING. Sometimes it’s just tickly lights. Whatever you see, write about it. Really explain it until it becomes a story. I like to draw what I see, too.

I have worked from home for close to 8 years now. Every night, as part of a routine I indeliberately constructed, I would turn off the lights of the home office at 10 pm and made my way to my bedroom. Sometimes, unfortunately I would accidentally step onto one of the cats and apologised profusely after hearing them yowling in pain. I always thought it was strange for my eyes to take longer to adjust to the darkness, but I learned that the phenomenon is called ‘dark adaptation‘. Even though it sounds like a thriller out of Netflix, it is absolutely normal for the human retina to take 20-30 minutes to do its work in detecting light, especially if the intensity of the light of the place you came from is significantly higher than the light in the place you made your way through. I still stumble every night, but every night I still manage to make my way through safely to my bedroom. Slowly, every item, every nook and the cranny of the room materialises itself, inviting me into the comfort of sleep. I find myself safe within the unlit space.

Dario Robleto's Small Crafts on Sisyphean Seas, on display at Inman Gallery.

Dario Robleto’s Small Crafts on Sisyphean Seas, on display at Inman Gallery.

The other day I came across a WITI edition contributed by Gabe Brosbe, who talks about artist Dario Robleto’s work called ‘Small Crafts on Sisyphean Seas‘, where he investigated the role of empathy in interstellar communication — you can think of it as something out of my favourite movie, Arrival. In this series of collages and sculptures, Robleto spent three years engaged in extensive research working with biologists, engineers, and astronomers at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI) to answer two general questions: “How does one communicate with something they can’t imagine? And, is empathy a universal behaviour?” Since 1983, in all its uncertainties, SETI had been doing the work of listening to and deciphering messages beamed to us from the outer space. I think about this body of work so often now as we are dealing with an unprecedented moment such as today, not only in terms of what kind of questions we should ask ourselves today and for the future, but also the patience and the depth of hope in allowing the light to reach the corner of our eyes so the answers will materialise themselves to us.

I had a Zoom video call with one of my friends the other day. The moment she asked, “what did you think of this pandemic?” I think she immediately regretted it, as I spurted every single observation of the injustices and class divides I was made even more aware of, that magnified throughout this dark crisis. But after the call, I also realised that in waiting for this darkness to set in, our moral retina detects the light, and we are indeliberately shown the opportunity to see clearer on what had gone wrong, and what should we do this with materialisation. Our duty now is to ensure that these things that had gone wrong — of which seemed normal only a month ago — would never happen again.

Courtney Martin, in her newsletter the examined life, interviewed one of her closest friends Molly Caro May who is currently in the midst of a Somatic Experience (SE) training. According to May, “It’s a study of trauma resolution in the nervous system and body. [..] SE is a way to work with our animal body and our fight/flight/freeze responses. It’s tending to the story told by the body, not the story told by the human using words.” In essence, whenever someone who has the awareness of SE detects the onset of trauma through the tracking sensations in their body (hot, cold, buzzing, cramped, pressure, constriction, tingling, etc), they are able to orient and ground themselves towards the present, and tell their body that they are actually safe. It’s not resorting to non-reactive mellowness, May says. “It just means that you can exist more often in a state of calm readiness, you can hang with the uncomfortable feelings without getting stuck in fight/flight/freeze.” Towards the end, May says, “This is resilience.”

This is what I see when I close my eyes, Lou. I see resilience. I see hope. I see it in you, I see it in all of us, and I see it in the goodness of the society and humankind as we are tasked to move forward with grace, and create something meaningful towards the light that waits for us at the end of this uncertain journey. Hope as not something nice to have, but a moral duty.

“[Hope] is tied to the most rigorous realism … it is an attitude of conquest and of a decision to fight. It is an entirely positive, constructive, demanding, and vigorous value. Hope involves an ethic, and it produces in us the appearance of power. It orders time. Nothing in the time of our technological society any longer has order, ordination, nor any qualitative reciprocal variety. Everything flows with insipid liquidity. Yesterday and tomorrow are meaningless. Hope is constructive of true time.” – Jacques Ellul, Hope in Time of Abandonment.

Reading in my tabs:

  • How to start and keep a journal during the pandemic (or any major upheaval, or any time at all.)
  • I have come across tech company owners who admitted to hire South Asian developers because they were “cheap and submissive”, and this whole journal article by Sareeta Amrute is just perfect to explain the phenomena.
  • “Taiwan’s success has rested on a fusion of technology, activism, and civic participation. A small but technologically cutting-edge democracy, living in the shadow of the superpower across the strait, Taiwan has in recent years developed one of the world’s most vibrant political cultures by making technology work to democracy’s advantage rather than detriment. This culture of civic technology has proved to be the country’s strongest immune response to the new coronavirus.” How civic technology can help stop a pandemic.
  • Better practices for ethical reporting on pandemics.
  • “Understand that this is a marathon. If you sprint at the beginning, you will vomit on your shoes by the end of the month.” How to adapt to a long-term crisis.
  • “When you walk outside, you are responsible for more than just yourself. We are in this together, and movement has morals and consequences — its own choreographic score, or set of instructions — in this age of the coronavirus.” Even before the arrival of coronavirus, I have always been very particular about my physical boundaries and how irritated I am when people intrude my personal space in public. Now, when we are social distancing, I am glad people are more wary of this more than ever.
  • “What we’re watching happen with COVID-19 is what happens when care insists on itself, when the care of others becomes mandatory, when it takes up space and money and labor and energy. See how hard it is to do? The world isn’t built to give care freely and abundantly. It’s trying now, but look how alien a concept this is, how hard it is to make happen.⁣ It will take all of us — it will take all of us operating on the principle that if only some of us are well, none of us are. And that’s exactly why it’s revolutionary. Because care demands that we live as though we are all interconnected — which we are — it invalidates the myth of the individual’s autonomy.”
  • “Everyone who is sick is someone else’s patient zero. There is something beautifully grotesque about that phrase, shedding virus, as if with a black light you could see the sloughed-off sickness like curling snakeskins all over my apartment, crumbling to dust.” A raw and honest account from someone who was found to be positive of Covid-19 and isolating herself along with her daughter.
  • A lovely meditation on learning to swim and coming out.
  • Things to do in the belly of a whale.

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