"Gevalt!!! Never give up hope! There is no despair."

-Rebbe Nahman of Breslov, late 18th c. Ukraine

A thread about this statement, during a time when a lot of us are struggling with hope.

1/x thread.
First of all, the first line. Gevalt.

In Yiddish (thank you @RokhlK) it has connotations of a cry, scream, alarm, call for help--and maybe an expression of shock. It's holding a lot. It's a calling out.
And then, the statement itself.
"Never give up hope! There is no despair."

Seems kind of simplistic, right? Kind of a cute thing that someone who doesn't really get it might say, put on an inspirational poster? Well.
Rebbe Nachman and his wife Sashia had 8 children, 4 of whom died within a year and a half of their births. Then Sashia died, of tuberculosis.

A few years later, Rebbe Nahman's house burned down.
He lived in a time of pogroms and anti-Jewish massacres. After his house in Breslov burned down, he moved to Uman, where the Haidamak Massacre, where between 2000 and 20,000 Jews had been slaughtered a few decades before.

He... wasn't sheltered.
It's also widely believed that he had bipolar.

He knew from despair, he was not a stranger to the specter of despair.
"Gevalt!!! Never give up hope! There is no despair."

It's not a naive statement. It's the statement of someone who has experienced real suffering, real pain, knows what it can be for the bottom to drop out.

And who makes a different kind of a choice.
Knowing a little more of his bio, that gevalt reads differently, doesn't it?

I picture it as almost a primal scream, coming from a place deep down within him, holding so much darkness and pain. And yet, after that primal scream, is the dogged refusal to let that darkness win.
I picture the hope like a rope in his hands, the lifeline to the light, to the vision of what can be, the resilient cord that he holds, and that holds him. And the refusal to allow the despair to exist, like telling the monster you don't believe in him, he can't be real.
Refusing to give up hope is a choice we can all make. Refusing to be defeatist, to despair, to let cynicism win is a choice we can all make.
We can choose to hold fast to our vision of what can be, of a society built on love and care, and we can and must continually pull ourselves up out of the well of cynicism, holding on to that rope, to that hope, to knowing what can be.
Some days it's hard, it's exhausting, holding on to the rope. Other days that rope is the only thing keeping us going.

But we can't let go.

And we have to make sure our actions match our vision--little by little, that rope--all of our ropes--will lift us up.
I want to add an addendum and an apology. It has been pointed out to me that speculating on the mental health diagnoses of historical figures and trying to draw conclusions from them is wildly inappropriate and I see that now, and am sorry for passing on speculation +
That I’ve heard, and for framing it in this way. I think the Torah of Rebbe Nahman’s life and what we can learn from it stands regardless. And I’ll continue trying to uproot my own ableism in a myriad of ways.
Here’s some music to go with this thread, by @yosgold, a setting of Rebbe Nahman’s somewhat famous (and definitely related to this thread) statement: “the whole world is a very narrow bridge and the main thing is not to be afraid at all.”

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1/x Thread
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“Women” and “people who can get pregnant” are not synonyms.
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