A late-night argument with my husband about hope

A message from our Executive Director, Karla Van Praag.

It was late Sunday night, after all the kids were finally asleep and the school lunches had been made. It was that moment you look forward all day, the moment you finally put your feet up. The “free” moment you have to chat, to make plans, to laugh.

It started innocently enough. We were discussing how we would go about helping one of our children prepare for something. The details aren’t important, but if you looked under the surface of the words we were saying to each other you would see we were talking about something bigger than the issue at hand. It was the subtext that made us raise our voices. He was saying if we work hard at it, we can make a difference in this situation. I heard myself saying something different: what will be, will be. The cards are stacked against us, so let’s not work so hard. It went on for hours, our discussion of destiny, our heated efforts at persuasion and understanding.

Fate has been on my mind a lot lately. For a year and a half I’ve been battling an illness that has taken away a lot of who I am. I’ve had several unsuccessful surgeries and take medication to manage the symptoms of my condition.  Uncertainty about how this will end abounds. Still, the biggest battle by far has been keeping my faith about whether anyone can really shape their own lives and collective future, when illness and cruelty and disaster seem to be ever-present in our lives. Aren’t we fools to believe we can influence our future when so much is out of our control?

The day after the argument, with the benefit of sleep, I rose to a bright sunrise and went to work. Sarah, our Communications Officer, had asked me to write an introduction to our November ENEWS about appreciation. I procrastinated. Instead, I read my email and there, the first email I read, was a link from a student in JOIN’s online course Don’t Kvetch, Organize! reflecting on attending a Fight for 15 rally for a living wage.  This is a campaign with growing success led by thousands of people around the country with plenty to lose and little reason to have faith in their power to shape their own lives, given the institutional barriers in their way.  But as Maimonides said, hope is the belief in the plausibility of the possible, as opposed to the necessity of the probable. There they were, creating a different reality, fighting and winning when most thought it was improbable.

I felt hope rising in myself, and I remembered again who I was. My illness and the many forces of injustice in the world cannot take away my agency, or my part in our collective efforts to make an impact on the world around us.  I was reminded by these leaders who have so much to lose that hopelessness is never a good option when the possible is plausible.

And so, this is what I’m feeling appreciative of.  In this line of work, I keep getting reminded of the ways that we can influence our own destinies.  Much in life, including my illness, is out of my control.  But in other parts, our agency is crystal clear.

JOIN for Justice is the embodiment of the belief that though the challenges we face in the world are hard and sometimes overwhelming, we still can make a big difference, if we’re smart about it and we work at it together.  We’ve seen the results again and again. We are the type that takes responsibility to play a role in the future; we don’t withdraw and allow what happens to happen.

And sometimes, thankfully, we win.

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