I work in an office on the university campus. The campus itself is marked with slight potholes, sidewalks that are uneven in places, and gravel strewn about yearlong. The office is generally rather casual.
It would be a mistake to say that I like to dress up—the restrictiveness of non-elastic-waistband-type clothes is, to me, something of a little indignity. Still, I try to hold my head up high (not an easy feat when one is trying to dodge potholes and loose gravel) while I walk to work in my pearl earrings, soft pink top, pencil skirt, and high heels. And, at the start of the day I feel hope. I know that I work in an office in which the majority of my co-workers and supervisors dress in jeans and t-shirts. I just feel that if I look as if I work in an office that is inhabited by Nordstrom work wear models, then maybe I can become the type of person who gets her Ph.D and is offered a research job. Maybe.
In an interview with NRP on his book Anatomy of a Disappearance, Hisham Matar said,
Living in hope is a really terrible thing…People speak about hope most of the time as a very positive thing. … [But] it’s a very dispossessing thing, it’s a very difficult thing to live with. When you’ve been living in hope for a long time as I have, suddenly you realize that certainty is far more desirable than hope.
Matar’s words strike me as acutely true.
I burnt myself out last academic year trying to be so many things. What I felt people wanted of me got all twisted up in my head with what I wanted until I was only living for others, who, I felt, were just being constantly disappointed by my actions.
I fully believe that people need to push themselves so that they better understand their worth. I believe this even though I know that this idea equates things, accomplishments, with worth. Certainly this is a linear, hierarchical way of thinking. I wish I could pile these useless, tiresome beliefs onto a ship so that they could be buried at sea.
But it’s not so easy to get rid of the past, and I think that that’s a good thing. We learn things by living with them, living around them, and living without them. When I reflect on the last academic year I feel that I’ve learned many things—about injustice, indignity, and powerlessness; about hope, love, and trust.
Hope can be like a drug. I was working so hard hoping to make a difference. Any difference. The difference I made was in me, and I don’t know that I like all of it. I’ve thought a lot recently about just stopping. Looking for some private sector job after college and saving for retirement and making food on the weekends and nothing more. But, I have this hope that I might be great. I might just be good or even mediocre, but I would rather be mediocre and devoting the whole of my energy towards human rights than a comfortable middle manager.
Every day when I walk home from work, in that same area that I confidently begin my walk each morning, I have these fantastic visions of falling. Not just falling in the high heels I wear to work that most of the other people at work do not wear, but crumpling into a bloody explosion of pain and shattered bones. It feels like a small miracle when I make it home in one piece. It feels like hope’s antithesis, but I now know it for what it really is: in the absence of certainty it is the seed that sustains me until the next day.