The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear

The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear edited by Paul Rogat Loeb (Basic Books, 422 pages, $15.95) reviewed by Jill Davidson

Sometimes I pick up a book that makes me wish I were still teaching, but since I’m not, I ask you to share The Impossible Will Take a Little While with your students, friends, and colleagues. This collection of 49 short essays and a dozen poems by international activists, dreamers, critics, scholars, writers, politicians, leaders and all-around doers contains perennial inspirations, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” alongside rarely heard voices: convicted murderer Billy Wayne Sinclair describes “The Road to Redemption,” the story of his lifetime imprisonment. Such juxtapositions remind readers that we all have the potential to survive under dire circumstances with our souls intact, whether those circumstances are imposed upon us, created by us, or both.

Though most contributions offer perspectives on holding onto hope through desperate circumstances, some are just about goodness. Bill McKibben’s “Curtiba” describes a “human scale” Brazilian city that has created sustainable and genuine happiness for its citizens, a place that has developed ways to face and solve its problems. “To learn from Curtiba,” McKibben writes, “the rest of the world would have to break some longstanding habits. And the hardest habit to break, in fact, may be what [Curtiba Mayor Jaime] Lerner calls ‘the syndrome of tragedy.'”

The Impossible Will Take a Little While will ignite potent teaching and learning in advisories, classrooms, and in the privacy of students’ hearts and minds. Fair warning: the book includes Sherman Alexie’s “Do Not Go Gentle,” which illustrates how to find courage and humor in the face of a child’s grave illness. Alexie’s essay features a sex toy used wisely though not at all for its intended purpose, and perhaps some may be put off. I suggest that the injustice and crimes against humanity that other essays feature, situations that we’re eager for our students to know and understand, have more potential to disturb than Alexie’s healing story, but I am aware that values differ greatly. You are forewarned.