This post comes with a warning. This post may make you feel uneasy, annoyed or frustrated if you currently hate the world and everything in it. Like if you were expecting a pay-rise from that meeting with the boss, for example, but actually the meeting was about you integrating your job role so that, in actuality, your work-load doubled. So you can’t say that you haven’t been warned now, can you?
Considering a few things that are happening right now in my life which I won’t go in to here, today would seem like a strange day – the word surreal comes to mind – to write about hope. Yet that, conversely, is precisely where hope blossoms (yes. This kind of irritating optimism is why I gave you that warning…). Theoretically, whatever is going on, however difficult things may be, there is always hope. It’s just not always so easy to practice that theory and make choices which allow it to manifest. Especially when life as we know it is more in flux and transient than it ever has been. The Neanderthals dealt with the flux that was basic every-day survival, at a time pre-communication where learned knowledge must, surely, have been something of a mystical affair – something largely unrecorded, maybe even un-thought of. Not surprising when you’ve got bigger fish to fry, like making sure a hungry tiger doesn’t kill every surviving member of your family. Now, we deal with flux while navigating a swarming world of information – that’s without even taking into account misinformation – technological breakthroughs and ever-changing theories. All of which are recorded, argued, challenged and eventually bettered (except for things like the re-imagining of the Lion bar, which transpired to be a toxic, ultimately pointless and humiliating affair for the chocolate bar’s makers). We may lack much in common with our stone-wielding, shit-scared of the unknown buddies of early civilisation, but our challenges never diminish. Crap roads, pot-holes and if we should bother to vote or not. And psychological survival can be as hazardous as anything – just because cave-people never had to deal with the obsessive addictions of 2014, that doesn’t mean that we have it any easier. In particular when all of us outside North Korea are susceptible to unlimited choices that consume our lives, making following – and staying on – any kind of path a momentous achievement in itself. Go this way, you’re in trouble. Don’t go this way and you can always post about it on Facebook, where, if you’re not very careful, you may just find yourself believing all the hype. That everything is shit, from boilers to relationships. That, in fact, all hope is lost, so the best any of us can do is carry on as we are and not really give a shit.
Yet today, I was once again made very aware that there is and continues to be tremendous hope and love in the world. Just last week I, along with thousands of other people, read a story on the guardian which cemented this perception. Six years ago at Waterloo Bridge, a man called Neil Laybourn noticed someone ominously perched on the bad side of the edge. Rather than doing the easy thing, the thing which many would hold characteristic of Londoners who have forgotten what the individual in society actually is, Neil stopped and took direct action, speaking to the man, making a choice which was just as brave as it was stupid – from a wholly selfish point-of-view. The article, if you haven’t seen it, makes for compelling reading, and charts their meeting up recently, enabling the then-victim to convey his heartfelt thanks in person. Until someone stopped to tell him that there was hope and things could change, the guy on the bridge had no idea.
Earlier today I decided to go for a walk in a local nature reserve. And by local I am fortunate enough to be able to say Just down the road – it being a 10 minute walk. It is a true escape, far and yet so close. Upon arriving there, a guy, probably about my age, approached me with his dog and began to ask me if I knew the area very well. We soon got talking about various connected things. The free parking – this he struggled to comprehend – and the impressive and unique geographical features which make the reserve something of an anomaly in our flat landscape. It’s still the barest trace of a hill by any proud northerner’s standards, but when land around you is flat forever, you have to take what you can get.
The way the man approached me made me smile: his lack of reticence about simply striking-up a conversation with a total stranger, and his blatant lack of guard – something I could liken to western tourists we had met in Vietnam last year, who were so happy to be surrounded by others of similar mind-set that the tragic and so-called normal social rules of many large cities went totally out the window.
Walking around the reserve on this cold, very windy day, I thought about a few sporadic, largely unconnected things, in that floaty and relaxed manner that is, much of the time, too interrupted by daily activities to be really sustainable for long. I recalled Russell Brand’s article from the guardian, which I had read and pondered earlier in the morning, in-between client emails and pretending not to have a look at Facebook. Candid as usual and disarmingly honest, Brand’s piece was, in my opinion, more serious and notably more poignant than many that have gone before it. Speaking openly and without seeking approval is, of course, a thing in which he excels. But what I was not prepared for, this time, was the thoughts that would come out of reading the piece. Love him or hate him, the article is a striking piece of writing that, uncomfortably and unapologetically, conveys the grim realities of being held in the hopeless grasp of substance addiction. For me, it displayed tremendous hope. That, even when something as dark and harrowing as substance addiction refuses to let go, there are people and organisations who want to make people feel much better. There is something other, something huge, something worth the fight. Even if it feels like hell. And it takes courage to write like that.
Despite all this, the obvious truth is that I, just like you – just like everyone who has ever lived, I argue – often need to take my own medicine. It’s fine for me to say “We should all be hopeful”, but I am all too aware that throw-away comments like this – or worse, mantras or lectures as some might consider them – can be insulting to those people who are in a desperate situation. A situation which would seem more or less impossible to anyone experiencing it. People who genuinely feel like there is no way out, no way to make a change. At times like this, hope is not easy to come by, and it may not be offered. Particularly when someone exhibits only normal character traits and appears to largely be OK. Not everyone is lucky enough to have good friends that watch out for them. Who email or text or call when life really does feel like total shit. So I am grateful for having that. I have to be. I have friends. I have family. This is a privilege. I am employable and, if I vanished tomorrow, I know that people would question where I had gone, if I was OK, if I was coming back. It does not give me satisfaction to know that this is the case, but it does make me realise how very fortunate I am and how much of life is up to me to affect. To have arrived at this point in time and to know, with conviction, that hope is attainable to me.
On the way back from the nature reserve today I saw two young lovers, somewhere between youth and adulthood, the male awkwardly handing over some kind of badly-wrapped present – I empathized with him. I simply cannot wrap things. All this, viewed in just a second or two and nothing to do with me – a fleeting show of perfection. In a way, it was like a kind of gift. Their whole lives ahead of them, I wondered who they were and what their stories might be. Where they’d go and what they might do and achieve. I wondered if life was actually, for them, as good as their faces and obvious happiness seemed to make out.
There is hope in the world, even if you can’t wrap gifts. Really. There is hope in the world if you are depressed and life, slowly but surely, is becoming too great an ordeal to survive through. But you’re allowed to moan about things, and you must. Moan about things on Facebook or to friends and work them through in your mind – I don’t know any other way, and that’s something I won’t be apologising for. Something I can’t change. Realise the imperfections, and, possibly, the greater advantages of your situation will flourish and become more distinct. So obvious that hope is the only rational by-product. That, with a smile, you can turn someone’s life around or make them think that, actually, life can be good sometimes and is worth living every single day.