The real Hope from Arkansas, unexpectedly reignited

by Jeanene Harlick | July 29, 2016 7:04 pm

I haven’t put much put stock in “hope” lately. I’m 42, an unemployed, former journalist, poor, and I jumped off my apartment roof last fall, to what I thought would be my death.

I’ve long been considered “mentally ill,” I still want to die, and now also live with what may be some sort of PTSD associated with the suicide attempt. When people like Hillary Clinton talk about, or fight for, the rights of the disabled, that doesn’t generally include fighting for people like me – people with psychiatric disabilities.

Yet, for some reason – one I’m still trying to pin down – this week Hillary Rodham Clinton has reignited a bit of inner hope.

For the first time since I tried to kill myself, spent two months in the hospital undergoing agonizing surgeries, and have (rather poorly) grappled with the suicide attempt’s physical and psychiatric consequences, I’ve shed tears of joy instead of despair the past two evenings.

Chelsea and Hillary Clinton’s speeches Thursday night, in particular, made me think maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for both me and this country lurking out there yet.

I know it probably has something to do with Hillary being a woman, and the fact that at least one of my mental illnesses – “anorexia” (it’s so much more than that) – is linked, in misunderstood but complicated ways, to the completely absurd, contradictory and unachievable cultural standards females are expected to live up to in the United States today.

Hillary’s never cared about being “thin,” “in shape,” or proving her discipline through her body, as she’s simultaneously fought for the downtrodden all these years, I thought last night. Why haven’t I done the same? Or, why can’t I start?

But Hillary’s nomination, her life work, her daughter, and what she wants to and will do for this country mean much more than that, of course.

There’s the obvious historical nature of the moment. A woman very likely becoming president. With me at an age where I’ve been able to witness and appreciate such an astounding, decades-long arc. With me so very, very proud of what this means for my three nieces.

But you know what moved me the most – what caused me to think that maybe I can keep fighting, instead of walking the four short blocks to the nearest train tracks – as I’ve lately been considering – this week?

Two things.

First: Hillary’s resilience. Her courage. Her determination to keep getting back up when people have mocked her, attacked her, and dismissed her. She never – or at least not publicly – let herself fall into self-pity or stew in anger, as I always, inevitably, seem to.

No. Clinton just brushed off the dirt, healed the injuries, and looked for – and found – the alternate path to her goal. The road less travelled that was there all along.

Maybe I can do the same, I thought Thursday night. The odds are against me, I’m well aware. But anything is better than resigning myself to the life of obscurity, loneliness, joblessness and interior agony I have consigned myself to for the past eight months.

There was that story Clinton told, Thursday, about being teased at school, and how her mother blocked the door when Hillary ran home and tried to retreat inside, momentarily giving in to the fear and shame. “Go back out there,” Clinton’s mother said.

“She never let me back down from any challenge,” Hillary recounted.

Even though we self-absorbed Americans tend to think, during dark periods and circumstances, that each of us are the only ones facing such seemingly overwhelming, insurmountable barriers and “unfair” obstacles – the truth, of course, is more complicated.

The truth is that life is very, very tough for everyone. Just in different ways.

Like Hillary, I need to stop hiding from bullies – in this case, the biggest bully being what I allow my own mind to say to my Self.

“You have to keep working to make things better, even when the odds are long and the opposition is fierce,” Clinton said.

The second thing that reignited hope for me Thursday? Clinton’s longstanding understanding that the privileged are interconnected with – and commanded to help – the less fortunate. That, combined with Clinton’s concrete track record of doing just this – fighting to empower the disadvantaged – over, and over, and over again; for going on 40 years.

Hillary talked about how her mother was “saved by the kindness of others”:

“No one gets through life alone,” Clinton said. “We have to look out for each other and lift each other up. [My mother] made sure I learned the words of our Methodist faith: ‘Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.’”

I’ve been on this earth long enough – and I’ve endured enough – to know that I’m unlikely to reap, in my remaining time, any quantifiable benefits from the remnants of American “democracy” or politicians’ promises.

But just knowing there’s a female, presidential nominee out there who is, at least, trying to bring some change – however small, and however slow – to this country of ours, right now, may be enough to get me by.

Maybe that Hope from Arkansas which first rose to the national scene in the ‘90s, and which I’d assumed got extinguished long ago, has been there smoldering, all along, and is about to flare up again – this time stronger than ever. Maybe all we have to do is just believe in that spark – but more importantly act on it; help others as well as ourselves – and maybe if we do, this time hope’s flame will be made real, and lasting.

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