Skip to main content
Despair breeds hope
9 min read

Before you believe everything they say about hope.

Almutasim Khalaf is a Palestinian-Syrian writer who lives in Lebanon, and the author of A Little Closer than Far. He writes articles and is trained in the field of creative writing.

Credits Text: Almutasim Khalaf Translation by Wael Sawah May 26 2023

We watch world events, and are often unable to explain what’s happening. Perhaps we have reached the point where we’ve realized that we don’t want to explain the world, but only to transcend it. This transgression should lead us with some hope towards safety. This is our great hope in a place as fragile as the world; to restore ourselves in the face of all the chaos and realize, if just for a moment, that our personal hope has some truth in it that we have to believe. The last commandment of all those who have departed this life is often to have hope that’s stronger than the fragility of this world, and to believe in this hope as if it is our only way to continue.

Perhaps our personal and collective hope is born from this relationship, in which hope matures. It’s as if it’s our way to transcend ourselves, and regain even a little reassurance from the idea that all this will end one day. This may seem like a naive hope at first glance. But in a way, we have come to belong to the many possibilities that hope leaves behind, as we look for tools to overcome bad news and the frustrating impotence that accompanies it. Because the world has become indivisible, and does not accommodate all of us, as political and military analysts crudely tell us on television.

To write about a big idea like humanity’s great hope for a better world, is nothing but an attempt to say that we are too small to absorb everything happening around us. If we can absorb it, we have to carefully pretend that what we seek, when all actions seem useless, is renewed hope– that is not actually a solution, but a temporary exit that requires us to admit that we are powerless.

We are afflicted with hope, not because we are optimistic, but rather because the silence of helplessness is deadly. The open possibilities of hope put us in front of weak options, and we often need something that we believe without fear. Often this thing will be the same hope that will come to us after years. Because the opposite of hope is not always despair, but in many cases it is oblivion. So, we must not forget to dream. The hope that dreams leave us, even in our most naive dreams, may seem acceptable in light of our reality.

Among the many possibilities of interpretation, it may seem funny that a Palestinian-Syrian writer living in Beirut is talking about hope. The worst nightmares of a post-lunch nap could not gather all this pessimism in one person, as he attempts to lay out everything he knows about hope. In a region where hope is considered a naive joke and where innocence ended when we realized, after many failed attempts for change, that we are living in a post-despair stage. I recall with confusing clarity how a person gradually loses his sense of personal being, and drifts with terrifying weakness towards an intense feeling that he is part of a large herd that he must succumb to.

While calculations of not giving up can be very exorbitant, we are strangely exempt from a single moment of truth. This is why writing about hope seems funny. Not because we have lost our sense of self, but because hope without the truth that helps us acknowledge who we are and what we are falls before us like a lifeless corpse for so long. We raced to revive it, and thus pure individual survival became the only remaining hope. We have no time to look back, nor wait for what might happen in the future.

Power has extended the present to a single eternal moment, in which the hero is he who strips himself of the hope of others, and runs away with swollen feet toward his own hope. Surely not all will arrive– though all who have fled believe for a moment that heroism often involves strong feelings of shame and abandonment. That hope in all its possibilities means one thing to us; surrendering to all options, even those that appear before us with so much fear and loneliness. That we are fit for hell, although the word hell sounds harsh, but there is nothing more cruel than to give in to your hope. In fact there is no one who is more fit for hell than us. Because we experience many times what it means to die daily without expecting anything from ourselves or the world. This is precisely one of the great meanings of hope, which is to forget what exactly you were waiting for!

The truth is that these small flashes of hope, which gradually shrink and break down into small sorrows over time, are our entire lives. Not because we are either optimistic or pessimistic, but rather because we’ve simply and spontaneously decided not to believe everything the world dictates to us. This specifically does not require strength, but to pay attention, and not believe our false convictions about ourselves and our lives. To search again for unexpected possibilities that can reshape ourselves.

Perhaps this is our only victory, to be liberated from the sway of the role assigned to us by power. To have the ability to distinguish between the brunt of our impotence and our true certainty that we exist. Even though all this may seem like false hope, even in its falsehood it often secures a coherent self-respect. That despite all the doubts, you have a hope with holes in it that does not lead to any goal. But you seek through it, to restore your sense of the true value of your own life.

Years before his departure, Portuguese writer José Saramago complained about the accusations of pessimism that his writings and life received. This is why it wasn’t at all surprising that he said this to Lebanese journalist Joumana Haddad: What a pessimist they say, José Saramago, and I answer them: No, our world is bad.

In any case, I see that pessimism is our only chance of salvation, and that optimism is a form of stupidity. To be optimistic in times like these is either insensitive or thoughtless. This connection between optimism and idiocy always leaves us with questions of the feasibility of hope. As if the thing that motivates us should add a lot of moral audacity to judging ourselves.

But the sign of hope that took over my mind as I read these words is that we, as a generation, have surpassed the pessimism of José Saramago. We are writing not to describe the world or change it, but to liberate ourselves from it. This takes a lot of audacity.

If in our perception pessimism is the opposite of optimism, our choices would have ended in narrow corridors that often obscure the light from the broader perception that we seek. This is the hope that is equivalent to rejection. Not only rejecting what is happening in the world, but even rejecting the possibilities of partnering with it in what is happening. So our hope is often without expectations. Because our daily life has completely stopped listening to our choices.

Growing up in a family that was too hopeful has taught me that I should believe in all the brief signs that hope leaves behind, even in the smallest of places. This does not imply a lot of disappointment, but a bit of forgiveness. Forgiving myself and others for all the hopes that weren’t fulfilled.

Despite all this I can boldly say that I am not completely pessimistic, but rather I have a certain kind of hope. It is the hope we give ourselves when we suddenly realize that the world can still bear one last attempt to say what we want. Even if it is unnecessary or not important. But it somehow expresses what we dream of. This attempt to dream that hope plants within me, often leaves me with the open doors of experience.

Although I often feel that I am emerging from a primitive cave. I tread carefully with my first steps towards a world without shadows, in which there is no sign of anything, except for hoarse voices trying to regain their ability to speak. But only experience can absorb all our curiosity about hope, in a reality that’s indifferent about our simplest innocence attempts. Perhaps this is the most elusive perception of the hope that we hide well, even from our closest friends.

We narrate it shyly to ourselves. As if it is a final message of reassurance to a boat that has not yet reached its destination, and through which we experience the transparency of the words that we have not yet dared to shout. Perhaps this is another way to say that we exist, and that we are walking blindfolded towards the unknown. That these leaps and falls of hope are our final evidence that the darkness in which we are drowning was never our choice.

Like what you read?

Take action for freedom of expression and donate to PEN/Opp. Our work depends upon funding and donors. Every contribution, big or small, is valuable for us.

Donate on Patreon
More ways to get involved