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ADELPHI UNIVERSITY FIRST YEAR STUDENT PAPERS
One of my favorite experiences came at Adelphi University, in Long Island, New York. They had all their 2007 first year students read The Impossible, and write mock letters to me, reflecting on what they'd learned, and referencing specific selections from the book. Faculty member Melanie Bush then coordinated a contest to pick the best letters. Here's the winning entry and excerpts from some representative others.
Dear Paul Loeb,
Many thanks for your inspiring book, The Impossible Will Take a Little While. However, post-impossible, I can’t seem to shake off this overwhelming feeling of guilt. Why, Loeb, must you strive to make me feel bad about myself? You see, I’m the kind of person who chooses reading Harry Potter over the daily news, who actually covets her time in front of the tube to zone out and soak in hilarious, but albeit, useless jokes from shows on Comedy Central or The Office. Like many other young adults I am the possessor of a cell phone, notebook computer, Ipod, and countless other gadgets and gizmos that are somehow necessities in this fast paced world. When it comes to politics, or –gulp- even the War in Iraq, I am completely in the dark. I do try, I do! I’ve made attempts to do the right thing- read an article here and there, throw a few coins in a Save Darfur collecting bank in my high school hallways, and even sport a “Be Green” bumper sticker on my dad’s old Corolla. But I can’t deny that I find it hard to keep up. I’ve admitted it, I’m a self-absorbed, ignorant, young adult with the ecological footprint of a Sasquatch, and this is my cry for help. I know I can do better, so can we talk about it?
When I read Nelson Mandela’s passage, “The Dark Years” your ideas about hope hit me. The efforts put forth by Mandela and his inmates to obtain news from the outside world were extremely risky. It was touching to see unyielding hope in a grave place, to hear of Mandela and his inmates relying on friendship, optimism, dignity and justice to fight for their rights. I am never that motivated to fight for “what’s right”, and I’m afraid that this feeling is shared among the majority of my friends, and their friends, and in fact, a large part of American youth. We’re a whole big lot of behemoths in bathrobes. (Seaquist hit close to home with her saucy passage- that “voice” could have been coming from my own head, rattling my subconscious awake and yelling “HEY! It’s time to get moving!”) Why is my generation so apathetic? It seems we are stuck in our own “Dark Years (73, 298).”
Kushner would agree with me, and in his passage he warns us that “what’s more likely to get us (169)” rather than global warming or the sun blowing up, is “our present condition of living in a world run by miscreants while the people of the world either have no access to power or have access but have forgotten how to get it and why it is important to have it (169).” The reason I think we have forgotten how to get it, this explanation for our unashamed hopelessness in obtaining power, lies in an assortment of aspects of modern society. For one, our media breeds warning. From red-meat to no-carb to no-meat –with diets that are in and out again faster than tween trends, it’s hard to be right with the times. Then, there’s always a new food revealed to have cancer causing elements. Let’s not even get into Bird Flu, E. coli, HPV and all the other life-threatening diseases. A lot of what is promoted in advertising and the media is what we need LESS of, of what out in the world is dangerous and bad. So isn’t surprising to see of how easily we are scared, and on the other hand, how hard it is to regain hope in a world with such a suffocating media.
From race to religion, to even the general appearance of a person, nearly everyone can be labeled and stereotyped. Actually I am fortunate to know that in my life I have never felt prejudiced for my skin color, or subjugated for my sexuality. Unlike women in Iran whose latest fads are getting nose jobs because in their society, it’s basically the only thing worth fixing that’ll be visible to anyone besides their husbands, I have never been pressured into extreme measures for beauty. Still, thanks to the media and idea of “popular image” today even I, and any other suburban Americans like me, can be imprisoned from head (biased news stations, endless advertisements) to toe (which color polish is hottest for the season?)… quite literally. But outside my microcosmic world dominated by fashion, music, and the due dates of papers like these, there are people fighting for change. And if there’s one thing this book has taught me, it’s that its never to late for change, and even little ole me could make the biggest difference. I no longer feel guilty, but rather, refreshed. I have shed my “bathrobe” and call out for a newer, more libertarian garment! Thank you, Loeb, for helping me take this step toward personal change. I now vow to become aware, to believe in myself and the world, and to have hope. The next question is- what to hope for? According to Pablo Neruda, who says that simply “…to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know… widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things (133).” just to have faith in humanity and share a little compassion can make the biggest difference.
Keep the faith,
[And from an email sent to me by an Adelphi student named Liz Anderson ]
Hope is defined in a modern sense "to wish for something With expectations of its fulfillment" yet as your book has shown it transcends a simple wish and becomes sustenance for the very soul; it guides us at times when all else has failed and illuminates even the darkest corners of the human mind. Hope such a simple word and yet it is a driving force behind the lives of some many people, hope for the future, hope for a better world and hope for peace. As a child of the
new millennia I have long been without hope , just as the boy in "mountain music" my life has been forever colored by the cynicism of a modern materialistic youth and the constant proliferation of the sentiment that the world around us is slowly being destroyed and there
is nothing we can do about it. Everyday life serves to suck the marrow of our spirit from us and leaves us empty husks of despair, to trudge lemming like through the shallow pool of existence. Hope in the world of today is not seen, it is not heard and to many it has deserted them.
Before reading The Impossible Will Take a Little While I had no thoughts to the nature of hope, the amorphous concept of it was unreal to me as I meditated in my hard cocoon of antipathy. I stared first at its bright continence and resented its existence as a harbinger of change an end to summer and the beginning of a new chapter in my life, yet now upon reflection I realize that your book has changed me now more than I expected, it has evolved me from my pupa-like state and I have emerged a new being, for the first time in my life I have hope. Not only do I have hope but I am able to recognize the hopes of others and how as a global community it is hope more than anything that connects us, it surpasses the barriers we place against others
and leaves us with a tether that cannot be broken or disbanded by the hatred of dissidents. As I sat here reading I began to wonder about the nature of your hope? Were you too, stuck in the apathetical whorl that has become modern America? Is that why you have now strove to be
a leader to the rest of us; to serve as an enlightened man to lead us from the cave of our unknown despair? Do you too feel that we have been splintered; yet our spirits, numb with inanity of television and fast food, are unable to feel the pain?
Your book, for me, now serves as a beacon not even of just hope but of enlightenment, it has shook me from the eternal stupor of living in a world where Brittany's hair carries more importance than how the government is running our nation. Just as Carla Seaquist
showed in the "Behemoth in his Bathrobe" in a post September 11th word we should care more now than ever but instead, reality has been rejected in favor of the ephemeral pleasures of ignorance. While our illusion of invincibility sat around us like the shattered ruins of Pompeii, we did not rise and question what could have brought us so swiftly to the brink of total annihilation; we did not look for the long festering wound of ignorance and hatred that burrows into the very soul of our country; instead we turned our eyes blind and placed blame solely on those who did us wrong. We, who claim to be the height of civilization, did not turn the other cheek; instead while our nation still shook from the tremors of devastation we set about to
perpetrate the same devastation on our fellow man. Now fear has become the motto of our nation; when we should have extended the healing hand of peace, we in its place pushed forth the brutal gauntlet of war and the American people set idly by, engrossed in the latest celebrity scandal and reality TV show. Yet I did not write this to discuss war, for even within this war there is still a burgeoning sprout of hope. Is that not what this is all about, life, love, existence, its all about hope and our ability to reach beyond ourselves to see the hopes of others; to realize that when it comes down to everything we all have the same fundamental hopes, to be safe, live
in peace, and be loved by both our God and our fellow man.
I think strangely enough, I was most inspired by perhaps the shortest selection in your book; "Origami Emotion" brought tears to my eyes because I found that within my new found hope was fighting for wings just as Elizabeth Barrette's small paper cranes. Does hope not grow just as Ms. Barrette's cranes from blank nothingness into something truly beautiful through the labor of a small few? The simplicity of this selection reached out to me, because of endurance of spirit, just like endurance of body, we are able to reach out and grasp something meaningful, something with the ability to give our souls wings just as Barrette gives wings to her cranes. Hope births us as nothing else can, it forges us, Antonio Machado once claimed that, "Under all that we think,
lives all we believe, like the ultimate veil of our spirits;" beyond everything, beyond our political affiliations, our religious beliefs, and our own personal morals, lies who we are as people. I thank you Mr. Loeb, you have unfurled my wings and given my spirit a chance to now fly free, unchained by the weight of my cold apathy and warm in the glow...of hope.
With All My Thanks, Liz Anderson
HERE ARE EXCERPTS FROM SOME OF THE OTHER ADELPHI PAPERS
"In today's society you're called a dreamer for wanting and believing in world peace and those who believe it is unattainable are suddenly the realists. After reading your work, The Impossible Will Take a Little While, I am once more inspired to make a positive impact in the world somehow." Rebecca Benison
"Throughout my years of reading, I have never laid my eyes on such an inspiring book. "The Impossible Will Take A Little While," is the perfect way to capture the heart of one's self. One of the most memorable pieces in this book is the poem by Maya Angelou, "Still I Rise." This poem was so inspirational; I read it four times. Even still it makes me want to reach for higher level! I learned that you can have the will power, the courage, and the hope to rise against all other misdemeanors, and control who you are and how you portray your own self." Kristin Hayes
"I’m eighteen years old, watching those at least twenty years older than I am making a difference in the world. Protecting their families, providing aid in natural disasters, dying serving their countries, or fighting for human rights. The Impossible Will Take A Little While, Arundhati Roy being the catalyst, has encouraged me to stop kicking the rocks on the road out of my way and to start re-paving the world for change. If I wait until I’m twenty years older it may be too late to start anything...After turning the last page of The Impossible Will Take A Little While, I wanted to do something, and I spoke to a friend of mine who has always been interested in social reform. We came to the conclusion that even the smallest action can spark change – even if the change occurs centuries after the spark " --Brandon Touhey
"Mr. Loeb, I have been taught over many years to try and view the world through different perspectives and eyes. Your book is said to be a guide to hope, where as I see it as a guide to surviving any hardship that I may face. You have given me the facts and the raw materials; all of which I have used to come to my conclusion on what the stories and tales were offering me. One must do more than hope in a time of fear, we must work and oppose, gather and unite. One must be willing to live to have hope, but we also need strength, courage and outside help in order to protect and use that hope for survival."--Danielle Saunders
"This anthology has made me contemplate everything I have been taught and my role in society. This book has taken my catholic school upbringing and brought real world examples to show how relevant all those religion classes really were. The stories showed real stories of bravery and perseverance in times of hardship and doubt, which are truly inspirational. The one story that spoke to me most was “Not Deterred,” which told about a young girl who was able to shut down an entire government. It showed that changes start with one person standing up for a belief, which everyone is capable of. Hopefully, one day, more people will realize this and will go out to make a difference."--Kristin Sobeck
"As I sat at the beach this summer with nothing but sand under my feet, I began to read your anthology, The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear. I knew from the beginning that this book was different from any book I’ve read before. The deepened nature of the various stories inspired me to try to become less pessimistic.
In my world the glass has always been less than half empty and I’ve realized that is not the way I want to live my life. Also, I am a creature of habit and hate change; however your book shed a light on a more hopeful and optimistic way of living. It showed me that we must turn our attention and passions from the concerns of the lives of Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Britney Spears, to what is truly important in the world today. Rather, we should concentrate on the more substantial and significant issues of our time, such as environmental degradation, poverty, political repression and how we can make a difference in these fields.
The excerpts in your book led me to the conclusion that ordinary citizens can make a difference by inspiring others to come together and do their part to make the world a better place. Activists, such as Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela, would not have gotten anywhere if it were not for the individuals who supported their causes and made it a collaborative effort. In the current day, we are more than capable of continuing these doings, as long as we have hope, determination, and courage. I want to thank you for showing me this."—Kaitlin Romeo
HERE'S A WONDERFUL ESSAY FROM A HISTORY CLASS AT WEST TEXAS A&M, FOLLOWED BY AN ESSAY FROM A STANFORD STUDENT
Professor Elizabeth Clark asked her West Texas A&M students the following:
It seems that everywhere we turn, we find people in despair. There is suffering in the world, and in our daily lives; there are tragedies in the news and wars on the front page. But amidst all of this, there are inspiring stories, there is hope, and I don't mean "little puppies rescued from the well" stories and hope, I mean tremendous acts of personal and cultural courage. Look at the demonstrations in former Soviet lands this year alone -- immense success has been achieved for democracy, for justice, for human rights. It is my intention that the Loeb book bring some of this home to you. Think over the authors' essays you have read. Review Ch. 43, "You Have to Pick Your Team," and then write an essay about which of these authors (at least one) you would "pick for your team" and why (their attitude, the issue they care about, their personal stories, etc).
AND HERE'S ARE EXCERPTS OF THE ANSWER FROM W. TEXAS A&M STUDENT DOUG FRANK
Picking only one of the authors included in this volume constitutes a monumental challenge.... While all of the authors and selections speak to my essence -- some in harmony, some in unison, and all stronger and more angelic than my humble voice -- I am most profoundly touched by the mere existence of this work, and my luck in having it "thrust upon me" by the unlikely and happy circumstance of being forced to take a class that was my second choice.
Therefore, the person I would pick for "my team" would be Paul Rogat Loeb himself. His act of winnowing and consolidating the included works into this one volume, and especially his prefatory and illuminating editorial comments, resonate with me. They exemplify what and who I wish to do and be; I would like to believe I could aspire to show the same care, thoughtfulness and vision in selecting and editing a similar work. There are names I recognize and respect included here, true: Arundhati Roy, Howard Zinn, Jim Hightower, Cornel West and others. I have been inspired by them, albeit peripherally and occasionally; have felt the hope talked about in the book that comes from discovering that we are not alone in our feelings and convictions; have felt the joy of hearing, clearly and distinctly, voice given to the gnawing, nebulous unsettledness that comes from *knowing* -- in the depths of our being -- that things are *not* quite right, despite the official line to the contrary...
To see ideas and conclusions I arrived at 'under my own steam' expressed so succinctly and eloquently is validation. But it is also a bit frightening: now I no longer have an excuse for inaction, or pessimism. Those are sadly comforting, a refuge when I feel small and alone and powerless to change any of the relentless injustice and headlong rush to stupid destruction that bombards us daily. When I feel powerless to better myself, much less my fellow man. When I feel powerless to even do so much as get that fellowman to *see*, as I see, and understand. I no longer have the luxury of self-pity and victimization.
Does this mean I am ready to charge into the van, winding up penniless, imprisoned or worse? No. But I am now ready to, finally, speak publicly, to *start* to do my part. I have been preparing for years, waiting for the "right" time, waiting until I was "fully ready" to move forward. In all honesty, I have been stalling. I swore years ago that I would stop living in fear; I have merely retreated to a subtler, more insidious corner of that dark kingdom, and it is time to step into the light. This is the testimony Loeb (and my instructor) has presented to me: hope; connectedness; forward motion, however slight or halting or awkward. I must do this, or quietly die. I have not known how to seek this which I have needed, this fuel for my spirit. I have searched a long time, in many typical and atypical places, and have as yet found only scraps, tidbits and lingering odors: just enough to keep me searching.
Now that I know where to look, I am hopeful that I can continue seeking, with more and more finding. And hopefully start meeting an ally or two along the way. As to picking particular issues: they all resonate with me, to one degree or another. In my view, they are all the same: they are all universal, all due to the same lies and denial of fundamental human truths, perpetuated in different times and forms by the same bad actors for the same selfish reasons. If I am forced to choose one, then it would be the essay about challenging power. The author explains that 'power' is a bogeyman, much more fragile than we think, and that it is maintained by convincing enough of the people under that power that things are inevitable. This knowledge is a great universal lever which can be used to move the supposedly intractable, given hope and patience and the willingness to use it. I would aspire to live up to Dean Alfange's "My Creed", which begins: "I choose to be an uncommon man...."
FINALLY, HERE'S THE STANFORD STUDENT'S ESSAY
From: Takeo Rivera
Over Winter Break, reading "The Impossible Will Take a Little While"
was quite a liberating experience. I was in New York City
traveling from point to point in a kind of lonely zigzag through the
space in the final days of 2007 and the first ones of 2008, and "The
Impossible" found itself with me on every subway and bus ride and
solitary lunch. One moment I recall was on a bus ride in Brooklyn's
East New York shortly before midnight, when I think I was reading
Mandela's essay, I sat in front of two middle school aged girls with
heavy Jamaican accents. One of the girls kept bragging how she kept
putting another girl "in her place," pulling out her hair, and that
there was nothing that her victim could do about it. "That's what
happens to snitches," she said, her voice lingering. "My mom's a
snitch," she then added. My ear then focused three rows down, where a
gorgeous woman was singing beautifully to herself, an eerie contrast to
the narrative behind me. I then focused my attention back to the book,
on how Mandela kept himself sane through the mutual solidarity of his
The book had come at just the right time of my life, right as things
have gotten to be so old and disillusioning for me. The lessons of so
many essays, such as the empowering ones like Hightower's, teach us
that social change is possible. Ones like the suicide phone bank story are
beautiful examples of glimmers of hope in the most desperate of
circumstances, and poit to success even without direct recognition.
There are the essays on learning how to appreciate life in order to
learn how to fight for it. It is such a nourishing book and I
genuinely cared and continue to care about it. I have recommended it
to several fellow activists of mine, and I hope that they take it up.
Hope is an interesting thing lately. We've seen it come up in Obama's
speeches, but this book has been serving as a tangible representative
of that hope for me. Several weeks ago, a very troubling incident had
occurred. I won't go too much into detail here, but suffice to say
that I and several of the Okada Staff had encountered a small group of
loud and drunk men who were shouting things like "white power" at the
top of their lungs. Even though we were some distance from Okada, we
felt like it was our responsibility to confront them, and we did.
They responded to us aggressively and got up in our faces, called us
racial epithets, etc. This all happened the night of Diana's birthday,
or the morning of my friend's birthday, depending on how you look at it,
and it was particularly troubling in terms of people's ignorance and
deep-seated racial discontent.
For a good week, I was thrust into a depression of sorts as a result of
this. This was not the first time I had personally confronted an act
of intolerance on campus (reference the Old Union LEAD exhibit made by
my former freshman for the first). The threat of violence in the
encounter affected me in unexpected ways; suddenly all of the various
stresses at Stanford were coming to a head, and I realized that I was
deeply self-loathing and wanted to escape everything, even the good
things. I was on the verge of potentially harming myself.
I got out of this through helping other people. My friend was also
similarly traumatized, and as a result of his experience, he brooded to
the extent that he developed an entirely new worldview focused on
hatred. Suddenly, he had an idea of what a "good person" was, and if
people didn't fulfill that standard, then he would shun them.
His best friends did not, so I began shunning them, despising them,
connecting them all to this idea that hatred may very well be a good
thing if utilized by good people. Over instant messenger via
Starbucks' wireless, I pleaded with him to look to love, the necessity
for a common compassion. He argued that love was just a mythological
construction, an "opiate." I demanded that it was something that it
was not, and that his friendships were beautiful examples of it that
could not be ignored... It went on like this for about an hour and a
half, I suddenly felt like the author of that suicide line article. It
suddenly occurred to me that my friend didn't have any hope. I
recommended that he read "The Impossible..." (he refused), as it would
be the remedy to what he was feeling in this moment. Eventually he
left the conversation, but it was I who emerged with a sudden
realization about things, that I had clarified my own positions of love
and the necessity for forgiving myself for things. And in the act of
helping my friend, I had suddenly learned how to help myself... after
spending a week living bitterly towards myself, I learned a sense of
The next day he rather humbly messaged me with "Why are you always right?"
Huge commendation to Loeb... this book has made a real and tangible
difference in my life, and shows the true and practical application of
hope... It's not something to be taken lightly, to be mocked...
it's such a crucial fiber of what makes us human.
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