Columnist Lindsay Sabadosa: ‘We will work despite futility’

  • REP. LINDSAY SABADOSA

Published: 2/22/2021 2:18:46 PM

When I was little, one of my favorite things to do was to listen to my grandfather tell me about the books he was reading. Generally large, heavy tomes on world history, he would spend the mornings, usually outdoors, reading and drinking coffee and then, in the afternoons, he would tell me intricate stories from his readings.

From Nero to Mary Stuart to Kaiser Wilhelm, a visit with him was a history lesson disguised in wonderful tales punctuated by wild gesticulation and thunderous knee-slapping to emphasize the most salient points.

It’s no surprise that after years of hearing about the wonders found between the covers of a book, I developed a love of reading (and, as a close second, a love of coffee). The problem has always been finding the time to feed that passion. Yet, as the pandemic wears on, I, like many of us, have developed pandemic sleep habits that involve waking up for hours in the middle of the night. To pass that time, I’ve started devouring books in the small hours of the day.

This Valley is full of talented authors and amazing bookstores that display their work prominently. So it’s not surprising that my selection has started to veer toward local fare. Most recently, I spent a lot of time between 1-3 a.m. with a book by Heather Abel called the “Optimistic Decade.” It would be pointless to try to summarize the plot in the brief space allotted here (and deprive you of the pleasure of reading it!), but I was particularly struck by an essay at the end entitled “Something Wrong” and want to share a few words here that I have chewed over a lot lately.

“Now I’m beginning to understand what it means to live with an idealism conjoined with despair, with cynicism [...]. It means you work despite futility.”

As we mark a year since the pandemic truly began and tackle the new challenges of distributing vaccines all while trying to figure out how to achieve equity in a world rife with injustice, it often feels that we work despite futility on a daily basis, particularly in our state Legislature.

We call for people with disabilities or who are immunocompromised to be included amongst those with two or more comorbidities. We demand easy access by phone to appointments for people without technological skills and more streamlined websites for those who do. We clamor for vaccines to go to our local Board of Health and hospitals so that people can get the health care they want from people they trust and know and Hampshire County residents don’t have to travel to goodness knows where and wait for who knows how long to get the same care as someone in Boston.

Then, when we have called, emailed, and written until there is no one left to listen, another wave of unemployment cases comes crashing in and it’s as if all of our time has been spent looking right when we should have been looking left. Then a call comes in about a family in crisis, someone about to lose their home, someone who cannot find shelter … and the sense of futility becomes overwhelming because our work, that day, did not solve everything. It just made a dent: help for some but certainly not all.

That dent though represents possibility (or idealism or whatever else we want to call it), i.e. the reason we keep on. It comes out when we file legislation in response to the futility our current Band-Aids offer, providing instead bold ideas to create what we view as meaningful change. We would not file bills like Medicare for All or carbon pricing if the current system worked. We would not talk about housing as a right or protections for workers if we weren’t tired of banging our heads against the status quo. Our boldness stems from frustration. The feeling of helplessness makes us strive to be helpful. It is as if possibility and futility are consonant notes in a complex chord, and, as my grandfather’s stories taught me, always have been.

Words like these may seem like cold comfort to those who are suffering, who are full of fury as they try to make vaccination appointments on a website that doesn’t work or who call an unemployment line that keeps hanging up on them. For them, the sense of futility is high right now. Patience is needed, but hard to come by after so many months of waiting. Yet out of that, there will be change because we will work despite futility. We will keep making those dents. There is simply no other choice.

Lindsay Sabadosa is a Northampton resident and the state representative for the 1st Hampshire District. She can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.


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