Blessed are the hopemakers

Chalk messages at a Black Lives Matter protest in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Photo by Tony Webster. Chalk messages at a Black Lives Matter protest held in Saint Paul, Minnesota on July 7th, 2016. Photo by Tony Webster.

The news is full of sorrow, lately.

That’s nothing new, I suppose. But there are times when it seems particularly overwhelming.

In the wake of the latest tragedies, the webcomic Least I Could Do released a strip that I feel is particularly spot-on. The words of Ryan Sohmer and the art of Lar deSouza blend perfectly to portray thoughts and emotions that ring all too true.

“We look to the stars to see how far we can go,” says Rayne, the main character of the strip, as he looks through a telescope.

He looks up, his face awash with wonder and awe. In the next panel, though, his face falls, deSouza’s art showing a very real pain that I believe is in all of our hearts when these tragedies occur.

“But sometimes,” he continues, “maybe we look to the stars, so we can ignore what’s happening by our feet. At least for a little while.”

The "Least I Could Do" comic strip for July 8, 2016. Written by Ryan Sohmer, drawn by Lar deSouza.

“Least I Could Do” comic strip for July 8, 2016. Written by Ryan Sohmer, drawn by Lar deSouza.

I believe science and discovery are important. As a storyteller, I also believe in the power and significance of media. But I will admit, sometimes I focus on space travel and fantastical stories because I need to escape. Because, contrary to Sir Thomas Bond’s assertion that “the world is not enough”, sometimes the world is just too much. Sometimes, the realities we live in are more than we can bear.

A Black Lives Matter protester holds a sign asking, "Am I next?" The protest —held in Saint Paul, Minnesota on July 7th, 2016— was responding both to the recent publicized deaths of Philando Lee and Alton Sterling, as well as to the pervasive and systemic problems that led to the two black men being killed by police officers in what is increasingly recognized as an all too common occurrence. Photo by Tony Webster.

A Black Lives Matter protester holds a sign asking, “Am I next?” The protest —held in Saint Paul, Minnesota on July 7th, 2016— was responding both to the recent publicized deaths of Philando Lee and Alton Sterling, as well as to the pervasive and systemic problems that led to the two black men being killed by police officers in what is increasingly recognized as an all too common occurrence. Photo by Tony Webster.

We have police officers harassing and killing civilians whose societal crime is the amount of melanin in their skin. We have snipers taking out police officers at peaceful protests. We have people in homes and nightclubs being beaten and murdered for daring to express who they love openly. We have people spreading wanton terror, each of whom believes themselves to be heroes fighting a great evil, committing murder and other atrocities in the name of a god who would not approve of their actions. We have soldiers and civilians fighting back, each hard choice taking them closer to becoming what they hate, and beginning the cycle of violence anew. We have people whose lives have been upended, who have been ejected from their homes, finding the safe harbors they’ve fled to are filled with angry mobs who would see them imprisoned or sent back to the horrors from which they barely escaped.

Amid all that, and far more, we’re also treating one another disgustingly on smaller, more individual levels. We judge friends and strangers for things that don’t really matter. Things which don’t really affect us, or anyone else. We mock people for their fashion, their intelligence, their culture, their race, their beliefs. We use the names of mental conditions, sexual orientations, genders, and personal identities as insults, jokes, and slurs. We take people who are minding their own business, living their lives as best they can, and we try to tear them down to make ourselves feel better.

Don’t try to deny it. We’ve all done it, at some point. For some, it continues to be an outlet for which they are not sorry. For others, it’s a heavy shame that weighs on our minds daily. But we’ve all done it. We’ve all been that person. We’ve all done something terrible to someone else, even if we didn’t mean to. We’ve all made someone else feel like shit. We’ve all driven someone to the edge, maybe even pushed them over, just to save ourselves from the same fate.

But we can be better. We can all be so much better.

So let’s look to the stars. Not to ignore what’s happening forever, but to give ourselves a reprieve. Not to pretend the problems don’t exist, but to remind ourselves that there is always hope. We can make the world better, if we only try. As long as we hold on to a small crumb of hope.

Just before the latest in a long line of tragedies appeared on the news, before someone decided to claim an eye for an eye and leave us all blinded, I saw a taste of that hope on Twitter.

“Give me hope in five words,” the Internet said to me. It was a trending hashtag, and it caught my attention.

I love those little challenges, even more so when it’s in the pursuit of positivity. So I took part. I posted just one tweet with the hashtag attached. It simply conveyed a thought I have firmly believed to be true for a long time: “You are everything to someone.”

Not everyone took the challenge so seriously. And there were definitely a number of examples that were, themselves, less than hopeful. There were tweets wishing failure, pain, or death upon police, terrorists, Muslims, Christians, atheists, gay people, trans people, brown people, white people, the rich, the poor, the President, assorted movie stars, and more.

But there was also great beauty in the results. There was love. And there was hope.

“Let’s share love, not hate,” said actor Jake T. Austin.

Jamie Tworkowski, founder of the charity To Write Love On Her Arms, tweeted with full stops, “You. Are. Made. For. Love.”

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention took the opportunity to spread one of their core messages: “You are not alone. Ever.”

Social media specialist Angelica Mata got personal, telling all who saw her tweet, “I see you. You matter.”

In addition to outpourings of love bordering on cheese, or fully embracing it, there were more specific messages of hope.

The official Twitter account for UN Women, an organization put together by the United Nations, tweeted, “We will achieve gender equality.”

Dundurn, an independent publishing house from Toronto, tweeted, “We will always have books.”

Even after the latest round of devastation in the unending cycle of everything that’s wrong with the world, messages of hope continued.

“A better world is possible,” said Seattle author J.L. Riser.

Emily Chochran, an intern with To Write Love On Her Arms, tweeted, “You have always been enough.”

And photographer Alexandra Jarrett, tweeting from her Axis Imagery account, said, “We can all be heroes.”

It’s that last one that sticks with me the most, right now. We can all be heroes. I believe that’s a truth that we should all make a part of our daily lives.

Heroism isn’t necessarily what we think it is. When we think of heroes, we think of action stars in movies. We think of adventurers. Even when we tone that down, we still think of people we consider more obviously brave and selfless. We think of firefighters, charity workers, doctors in war zones, soldiers, protesters, holy figures, and martyrs. We think big. We think flashy. We think of the people whose names, or at least their actions, will be part of history books in centuries to come.

But we encounter heroes every day of our lives. We have family, friends, and co-workers who we look up to, who inspire us. We have people who ask us how we are, who try to listen to us when we’re in pain. And we have people who give us hope.

Every person who spreads hope is a hero, to me. Because it’s hard. It’s hard to maintain hope. It’s harder still to spread it.

I’ve struggled with depression and suicidal urges most, if not all, of my life. But even in my darkest moments, even when I’m so deep in it that I’ve lost the ability to feel anything and would be perfectly content to sit there and starve to death, I know that there is always some good out there. I know that the next corner I turn could hold something magnificent. And if it doesn’t, then maybe the next corner after that. Eventually, some tiny bit of magic will reveal itself. I’ve learned, through time and struggle, that just because I can’t see the good doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

So blessed are the hopemakers. They, to me, are the unsung heroes of the world. We celebrate grand gestures, but few remember the little things others have done. And even fewer will realize what they’ve done for others. We can’t always see the impact of every action, and the small things we forget may mean the world to someone else. You are everything to someone.

Everything we do impacts another person. Everything we do spreads across the globe, a ripple that becomes a tidal wave, spreading from someone you know to someone they know to people you will never meet as long as you live. In the end, we have to choose what we want our ripple to be.

We can spread negativity, lashing out at everyone in an effort to protect ourselves. We can save ourselves at the expense of others, and then later have no one to save us. Or we can spread hope. We can work together toward a better world. We can pull others back from the edge, and when we later find ourselves on the precipice, others will be there to rescue us in turn.

I’m not going to ignore what’s by my feet. I’m not going to pretend that we don’t face a multitude of large, intimidating problems. I’m not going to pretend that I’ll live to see all those problems solved.

But I will look to the stars.

I will see how far we can go. How far we will go.

I will keep my hope alive.

And I hope that you do, too.

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