A Visual Vocabulary for Hope

A Visual Vocabulary for Hope

September 24, 2019 1 Comment

One of my favorite images in fiction comes from Ursula K. LeGuin’s “Nine Lives.” At the end of the story, Owen Pugh, a scientist and astronaut, explains to Kaph, a genetically engineered clone, that people ease their sense of loneliness and isolation by learning how to connect with others. Pugh says, “What can you do but hold out your hand in the dark?” The image is not necessarily new or unique to LeGuin’s fiction. How many of us shared a room with a sibling? How many of us snuck into our sibling’s bed after waking from a nightmare? How many of us would reach out a hand to our brother or sister hoping for comfort?

I love the simplistic universality of LeGuin’s sentence and the unspoken response to Pugh’s question: And you hope that someone will take your hand.

For me, the image of a hand reaching out into the dark encapsulates many of the prayers I have said over the years. When my depression is overwhelming, it can be difficult to pray. It can be challenging to find words that describe exactly what I am feeling, why I am feeling it, and how I hope God will help me.

A few days ago, I sat in a meeting with colleagues and as we shared the progress we were making on certain projects, I felt uncomfortable, tired, and overwhelmed to the point of tears. My throat tightened as I tried to keep myself from openly crying in front of everyone. When the meeting was over, I did everything I could to ignore that feeling though it persisted throughout the remainder of the day.

I felt entirely bereft of any feeling of belonging. I felt as though everything that tethered me to my life had come undone.

That feeling eventually passed, but I know that it will come again. In those moments, it is all I can do to just turn my thoughts to God. In the darkness, I hope for light. I reach out my hand, and I hope that God will take it.

Depression often takes me to a place that is beyond intellectual comprehension. How do you describe a feeling, a state of existence, to someone who has never felt that feeling themselves? For me, the gift of literature, the real beauty of reading, is that it has given me a mental and visual vocabulary to describe my depression. Literature enables me to signify, to give shape and representation, to the feelings of internal chaos and upheaval. It has eased some of the isolation, the feeling of being adrift and untethered, that comes with depression.

When I do not have words to pray, I think of my hands reaching out in the dark, reaching to God, and hoping that they will be taken.





Gyasi S. Byng lives in Rochester, New York. She is PhD student at the University of Rochester where she teaches a writing course on robotics and human identity. She received her MA from Florida Atlantic University and her BA from Palm Beach Atlantic University. Her recent publications include “I Have Never Been Strong” in Open Minds Quarterly, “In the Waiting Line” in Apogee: Reclaiming the Margins, and “Beige Girl Problems” in Rivet: The Journal of Writing That Risks.



Next up, Hope's Fragile Wings.



 Photo by Rhendi Rukmana on Unsplash

1 Response

Anna Eastland
Anna Eastland

September 30, 2019

Thanks of sharing this. It’s so true that literature can help us to find words and images to express the mysterious darkness we sometimes feel. My husband finds it easier to talk about his more intimate emotions through the medium of philosophy or literature. They give him tools for self-expression.
Anyway, here’s sending a virtual hand squeeze for the next time you need it! :)

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