Hope in times of uncertainty

Angana Das, April 20, 2020

“Uncertainty” and “hope” are two words that have occupied my mind and being for the past few weeks. Against the backdrop of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, I have oscillated between these two states of being. I believe that amidst uncertainty, hope is the most difficult virtue to maintain, but, arguably the most powerful.

This pandemic severely disrupted our daily lives, incited our deepest fears and gripped us with a kind of uncertainty we have not faced before. The question, “When will this end?” has no answers. People in my immediate surrounding had their travel plans for conferences, fieldwork and holidays postponed or cancelled. The thought of being locked inside our houses for an indefinite period is dreadful. Not being able to go to schools, university, work, play sports or just hang out with friends and family has put us in an extraordinary situation. Everything has come to a standstill in our lives. Some of these uncertainties include: Will I or someone close to me get the virus? Will I lose my job? Will I be able to pay my monthly rent? Will I be able to sit for exams? Do I have enough groceries to last me during lockdown? Will I run out of my savings? And, this has rekindled our interest around hope in times of uncertainty.

Personally, it is a moment of deep reflection for me. I have long battled with these concerns before the outbreak of this pandemic in my own life. In a way, it seems familiar to my daily realities. My childhood was painful and revolved around hospitals. Since the age of 5, I have had major medical conditions at different periods in life. In 2017, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disorder. There is no cure for this condition and people suffering from it must learn to live with the pain. So, in a way it feels like my chronic illness prepared me for this pandemic. A typical day in my life is somewhat like this – I wake up with severe pain after a night of disturbed sleep which reduces my general speed to have breakfast, get ready and attend university lectures on time. By afternoon, I feel more pain and know that my plans for the evening to meet a friend, do laundry, finish a reading and attend a webinar will be disrupted. At night, I wonder will I be able to sleep properly, and cover up for the loss next day? Frequent visits to the doctors, therapists and pharmacists are like a never-ending cycle.

The number of days in a month when I go through this exceeds the number of days when I don’t feel this way. For me, each day is full of uncertainties. So, all I can do is hope for the next day to be better or continue to feel hopeless. At times, I experience loneliness in dealing with this internal pain which is not visible to others. Amidst these myriad feelings, hope makes me not give up, gives me courage to fight my situation and excites me for the future. My spiritual practice of Nichiren Buddhism helps me to create hope where there is none (Ikeda, 2005). On a rare day when I can do everything that I had planned for, my heart is filled with deep gratitude when I go to sleep. Instead of focusing on a setback or achievement, I focus on the process and live each day with zest. Recently, my advisor at the Disability Resource Centre at Cambridge University encouraged me to focus on the ‘ability’ in my ‘disability’. Stephen Hawking once said, “While there is life, there is hope”. I often think about this in solitude and contemplate how our world is indeed shaped by individual and collective hope.

Paulo Freire writes in Pedagogy of Hope (1994), “Without a minimum of hope, we cannot so much as start the struggle. But without struggle, hope, as an ontological need, dissipates, loses its bearings, and turns into hopelessness. Hence the need for a kind of education in hope” (p.3). In this book, Freire recollects his experiences of despair and sadness and how he sought for the deepest “why” of his pain (p.22). This process generated hope in him which in turn influenced his ideas to educate children to think critically and solve problems collectively. There is consensus among all sections of society that post Covid-19, we should not go back to the old normal and embrace a new normal. So, what are the factors that will ensure we are able to create this new life? I can think of three different ways to actualise hope in the post Covid-19 world: hope for being, hope for togetherness and hope for meaning. To begin with, let us ponder on what it means to be truly alive and hopeful. We can hope to become what we want to become by undertaking a journey of self-reflection during this time. By acknowledging our own position, let us think of ways in which we can support those who are living in dire circumstances and express gratitude for our frontline workers. In hope for togetherness, let us enhance our capacity to empathise with others. It is easy to do this now because all our lives have been affected in some way or the other. But, after all of this is over, let us continue to reach out to those who may need us and ensure that no one suffers in isolation. We need to strengthen the sense of belonging that we have rediscovered and work towards respecting the interconnectedness we are currently experiencing. Finally, let us be hopeful that our individual and collective struggles during this time will create something meaningful and worthwhile.

I hope that in these difficult times, you too will decide to be hopeful.