The way we hold tiny hope sparks
A breath for this topic.
Before even beginning
I wanted to write about the way we hold tiny hope sparks, in hands and in hearts, and a wish about cultivating hope like a plant, or like tending to a fire, from spark to spark, can hope grow and how does it grow…
But first I need to write about the painful things that are so painful, the hard and, I hope, the good, if we get to it, but maybe that’s a hope spark too.
As always, but somehow more so right now, I am glad you are here. I am glad we are here, even if I have not been able to say much lately.
Hi sweet friends / entry
Hi sweet friends, people who read what I write here, I did not show up here (or anywhere) last week because I simply could not.
And I was going to just tell you that, then, and I could not even do that, and I am sorry about not having words, not even a few words to explain about not having words.
Actually I was feeling not great about any of that, but then Etgar Keret, one of my very favorite writers, wrote in his newsletter this week that he also has not been writing, has not been able to write, he said:
“Words had suddenly felt empty, and my heart had dried up.”
Words empty, heart dried up, yes, that is the gist of it.
Empty & dried up
I think that sums up where I have been and what I have been doing, or really, not doing.
Not sleeping, not eating, not writing, not anything.
Not particularly lucid, not particularly capable. Unable to show up in any way, because grief, sorrow and worry have emptied me of the ability to communicate.
What a week, my loves
What a week. Are we okay, maybe not, probably not, I am not.
But I am here. Let’s get into it.
Actually let me first say this
I hope you are somewhere cozy and safe, a sanctuary space for you, and that everyone you love in this cruel messy world is safe, or will be soon.
And if that is sadly not the case, then I am glowing love, support, strength, or whatever it is that you need.
And before I even give all the boring necessary qualifications that sadly do need to be qualified and expressed in words because of the way this world works, I’m just going to start with this:
Do you want to hear my favorite holocaust joke?
Do you want to hear my favorite holocaust joke?
If you don’t have a favorite holocaust joke, this can be yours too, you’re welcome.
And if you don’t yet understand why so many holocaust jokes exist for this to be an option, or why you’d want a favorite holocaust joke to begin with, well I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe the joke itself will explain.
In fact, if I had to explain Jewish humor to aliens I would start with this joke, because I think it might be the most representative of how we deal with trauma.
Okay, here is the premise of the joke: that Elie Wiesel (1928-2016), famous holocaust survivor and writer who wrote about being a Jewish prisoner at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, has just died. Yes?
Elie Wiesel dies, goes to ha’olam haba, the world to come, the afterlife, whatever that is, call it heaven if you like even though Jews don’t really think that way. And it’s a big deal because it’s Elie Wiesel.
So god godself comes out to greet him personally.
They look at each other for a while in silence and Elie Wiesel says nu (yiddish for “soo…”), and god also says nu…
Awkward silence. Finally Elie Wiesel says: Well, tell me your best holocaust joke. And god goes, WHAT.
Elie Wiesel: Your best holocaust joke, hit me with it, I want to hear it.
God says, I’m sorry, I can’t do that, there’s nothing funny about the holocaust.
And Elie Wiesel says: Huh, guess you had to be there.
Talk to me about not
Yes, talk to me about not, tell me how not to sink into the pits of despair. What are the secrets of not-sinking…
I keep listening to this song by James from the album Laid, a favorite 1993 album, Say Something.
Say something say something, anything, your silence is deafening…
I say this to myself when I don’t have words, or maybe I have them but can’t bear to let them into the world.
And I say it to the radio, waiting to hear word that the hostages taken by Hamas terrorists have been returned, alive, please. Alive, please.
Say something, say something, anything
Say something, say something, anything.
Tell me how to stay out of the pits of despair, to emerge from the pits of despair, I do not know how.
Tell me what I can hope for. Tell me that I can have hope again.
Oh right, I was supposed to give pre-qualifications, in order to not be misunderstood by what I say next, because there is a lot of misunderstanding and being misunderstood going around, as well as a lot of people who are not pre-qualifying their stances, whatever those may be.
And sometimes not pre-qualifying a stance results in that stance being pretty horrifying. Pre-qualifications matter, I think. For clarity, and for us to be able to reach across barriers, both real and perceived.
Here are mine..
Here are mine
Like all progressive, left-wing Israelis, my friends and family included, I remain passionately against the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, against the brutality, cruelty and racism that characterize many actions of the Israeli army, particularly of mishmar ha’gvul which is the Israeli version of Border Patrol, and much like the American version, a lot of bad apples in that barrel.
Like everyone I know in Israel, I have been to dozens of protests there against the Israeli Occupation, these protests take place constantly, though I have not once seen mention of this in American media.
Like every progressive left-wing Israeli I know aka pretty much everyone I know there, my heart is with Palestinians in their pursuit of sovereignty, safety, self-determination; my heart breaks for their suffering.
I despise Netanyahu, a corrupt fascist, and Ben-Gvir, a religious fascist, a true believer, which is worse, and hope dearly that their fall from power will be swift and permanent.
And I understand and continue to believe, both because I just do and because I have to, that Hamas, a brutal terrorist organization, does not and cannot represent the wishes of the majority of Palestinians, who of course want and deserve to live their lives in peace.
As many of you know, I was able to get out of serving in the Israeli army, and I would not have stayed there had I not been fortunate enough to have that option.
(I hope not)
Do I further need to qualify things? I hope not. Do you need to know how I voted in every election there? I mean, I can tell you, though I don’t think it matters.
It is important for me to say these things because I think everyone should know where I stand in general.
And at the same time it hurts my heart that I feel obligated to say them first, that I have to say these things as a preface, that I cannot express my pain and distress over the Israeli captives, survivors, the dead and the people who love them without carefully delineating where I stand on the broad issues.
Things are very grim, my friends
I am hurting. I am hurting so much. I assume you are too. The news is so grim.
The massacre in Israel by Hamas. The Palestinians who were already suffering harm now suffering even more harm from the as-expected Israeli response. The awful, horrifying hate crimes and threats of hate crimes here in the United States where I am and in other places around the world, it is so much, for all of us.
So much pain, and too much to be able to take, the hurt is too intense, too close to home.
Where I’m at (emotionally?)
The terrible massacre by Hamas at the music festival on Saturday, October 7, some have called it a pogrom, which feels accurate, took place in my former back yard, by Re’im, next to Urim.
I have hiked there many times, I have been to the place where Hamas murdered over two hundred and fifty young people, kidnapped some, bodies still being found a week later.
I will not speak to the other atrocities that happened there.
Similarly, I will not describe the scene at Kisufim & Be’eri, places I have visited with friends, quiet peaceful communities where Israelis were tortured and murdered in horrifying ways, I have seen video of the burnt and bloody homes after the bodies were removed. I have seen more than I ever wish to see again.
Lighting a candle
The town I lived in and called home was miraculously evacuated in time, my close friends and extended family are safe, though many of their friends were murdered, and someone we know is among the captives, each day I light a candle for his safe release and return home.
Though of course that home no longer exists, everyone has scattered.
What is home? Where was god?
You had to be there. You weren’t there. I wasn’t there, and I feel very fucked up about that, specifically.
The ongoing panic, among other things
Caught up with a friend I haven’t heard from in twenty years. One of his extended family members is among the abducted too. My friend’s kids are having panic attacks. I get it.
I get it. I don’t know what to do.
Lighting a candle, what else can I do?
Ten breaths, and then ten more. We are strong, we are tough, one step and then the next step.
I have to say that I am still entirely in a state of shock, a week and a half later. Waiting to wake up to a different reality.
At the hardware store, trying to resolve my various plumbing woes, no one is crying, no one is upset, it is just a regular day for everyone.
And I resent them because they don’t know about the absolutely gruesome things I have learned about and will not describe here or ever, the horrors that were enacted, with great intentionality, by Hamas, to friends of my friends. Or of the bravery of the people who did what they could to save others.
Meanwhile I have to gather myself together in the car because I am mostly too distraught to function.
I sweep myself up like shards in a dustpan, I don’t see a way to be put back together. But that’s what the hope sparks are for.
For the first week of the war, I wasn’t able to get more than three hours of sleep a night, and never all at once.
Unfortunately I don’t eat enough to begin with, and have been really falling down on that front lately. Nothing appeals. I suppose that is an element of shock too.
What I’ve been doing
What have I been doing actually, other than crying, lighting candles, checking on friends and family, staring blankly, not-writing?
Vacillating between overdosing on news and no news. For the first week, I watched Israeli television streaming, all day every day, switching to radio when it was too much, then music radio with a brief hourly news moment when that was too much.
Then I took three days to decompress and refused to interact with any news at all. Just music.
Avoiding social media. I am sure that the various takes are as unhelpful as they are many, and I do not wish to interact with them.
Oh, and hauling water from a hydrant, because I am having a plumbing emergency that no one can fix, and water to my home has been shut off for eleven days now, with no solution in sight.
Anyway, I don’t want to talk about that either, so let’s find our way, somehow, to something better…
The epistemological instinct
My friend who is finishing a PhD in psychology offered this:
“It’s maybe not helpful, but psychoanalysis writes about the ‘epistemological instinct’ as one of our self preservation instincts and a defense against anxiety. That desire to KNOW is so powerful.”
Yes, so there’s that. It is not helpful for me to soak up more and more bad news, and also there is the part of me who desires to know, as if knowing will tell me something. Say something, say something, anything.
Here is something, too
Perhaps it is naive the way I continue to hold this hope spark in my hands, the hope spark of someday peace, peace is possible, we can figure this out somehow, someday. The way I insist on holding onto hope, even now, especially now.
But I do. I never thought I would see Israel have peace with Jordan or Egypt in my lifetime, and yet both of these came to pass. Other miraculous things can come to pass as well. I will keep whispering to the spark of hope, saying live, live, thrive.
And I always return to the beautiful friendship between Etgar Keret and Sayed Kashua, two writers I admire, and the story that Keret wrote for his friend in another scary time, called A Story With A Happy Ending, which you can (and should, please) read here.
Hope sparks, in general
The hope sparks that I hold, tend to and cultivate in times of hopelessness and at all times are not just related to this particular, devastating-for-everyone, terrifying and grim situation of grief and despair.
Oh no, I hold hope sparks for all sorts of things.
Still I cherish
Even in a pandemic where I am severely immunocompromised, very ill, and it hurts my heart to see how the world moved on and almost no one is doing anything to keep me safe, not even a symbolic gesture.
Even in a climate emergency in which we can see ourselves hurtling swiftly in real time towards each new point of no return. Free fall, nothing to be done, and still I cherish these tiny hope sparks.
Even living where I do in the southwestern United States where Border Patrol enacts terrible cruelties on people seeking refuge and asylum, with no consequence, no matter who we vote for.
Terrible things are happening, hope-defying terrible things, and still I breathe new life into my hope sparks.
Breathing life, hope sparks
This is what I keep coming back to, how the practice of hope sparks and finding small good things in the moment is both hard and brave. And important.
Where can I find hope and how can I tend to my hope hearth. Breathing life, hope sparks.
Breathing life and hope into all the challenges, large and small
Even when relatively small things (getting running water set up again in my house please) feel entirely hopeless, I know there will be a way, I’m just not there yet.
I haul buckets, breathe and hope, breathe and hope. One step and then the next step.
What helps me stay grounded and centered amidst this great despair (political, environmental, health), and the smaller daily despair pits and pitfalls?
Trying very hard not to sink into the pits of despair (though mostly have been hanging out there), and to focus on the known things that help. Known small things.
Known small things to interrupt the cycle of grief rage terror sorrow despair, for example:
- Clean dishes.
- Hydrating. Washing my hair.
- Wrapping up in blankets. Slow stretching on the rug.
- Movie night.
- Looking at the sky.
- Sixteen breaths.
- Asking how much of this pain is mine…
- Crying some more, yawning it out, release release release release.
And this, too
Friends have been reaching out to me with kind and helpful words.
For example: “Havi, this feels a like a week when it is absurd to ask how you are doing, but I am thinking of you and I have some pictures of dogs in hoodies for you.”
And: “Hi my dear. It’s too horrifying to talk about …there are no words. So just sending an embrace of comfort, letting you know you are in my mind and heart.”
It helps. It is very lonely to be in this state of grim despair, but people know that I’m there and they stop by.
Returning to the hope spark that I cultivate in my heart
A song playing on Israeli radio in the background, “even if all the stars show there’s reason to worry, there’s still no reason to despair”, that’s something too.
Trying to find small hope sparks where I can even though it is harder than ever.
It’s necessary, and it’s how we survive.
And part of hope spark life, this devotion to hope sparks, is knowing or at least remembering that the hope sparks will return even when I can’t see them or remember what they look like and feel like.
HOPE. SPARK. LIFE.
It’s part faith, part luck, part practice, part repetition.
Part faith, part luck, part practice, part repetition
Let’s keep trying.
Let’s keep pointing our hope sparks towards something better for everyone.
Let’s hope as hard as we can when we can, and care for ourselves lovingly when we can’t. Faith, luck, practice, repetition, or whatever works for you.
Let’s keep trying, let’s keep going.
Come play in the comments, I appreciate the company
You are welcome to share anything that sparked for you while reading, or anything that helped or anything on your mind.
Or anything you’d like to toss into the wishing pot, the healing power of the collective is no small thing, companionship always helps.
You can wish any wishes that come to mind (come to heart?), or echo “Oh wow, what beautiful wishes!” for my wishes or anyone else’s.
I’m happy you’re here with me.
I’m making progress on bonus material about how I relate to time and map out my quarters, let me know if there anything you want to know more about specifically? Drop any questions or thoughts here…
Anyone who gives to Barrington’s Discretionary (see below) will get these by email as soon as I finish editing, I hope soon.
If you received clues or perspective or want to send appreciation for the writing and work/play we do here, I appreciate it tremendously. Working on some stuff to offer this coming year, but between traumatic brain injury recovery & Long Covid, slow going.
I am accepting support (with joy & gratitude) in the form of Appreciation Money to Barrington’s Discretionary Fund. Asking is not where my strength resides but Brave & Stalwart is the theme these days, and pattern-rewriting is the work, it all helps with fixing the many broken things.
And if those aren’t options, I get it, you can light a candle for support (or light one in your mind!), share this with someone who loves words, tell people about these techniques, approaches and themes, send them here, it all helps, it’s all welcome, and I appreciate it and you so much. ❤️