It springs eternal, or so they tell me. Hope. You gotta have it. It is as essential to the human condition as breathing, but why do some of us have it in abundance while others feel it has abandoned us?
I got thinking about hope the other day when I got a call from Trish who organises our Writers Group. Nat, one of our members, who is a very gifted historical fiction writer and an ACTUAL published writer (yes, it can happen) has been admitted to hospital suffering from a nervous breakdown. Trish rang me in tears, extremely distressed. ‘You won’t believe what Nat said to me,’ she said. ‘I’ve given up hope. I am empty inside.’
Nat has had her fair share of stress and turmoil over the past few years. Illness, marriage breakup, loss of her parents, and a heightened sensitivity to the problems in society which sometimes leaves her reeling. As an historian she sees us making the same mistakes over and over again as if we are gluttons for punishment. ‘We never learn,’ is something she has often remarked to me.
Despite this, and on ongoing battle with depression, she is one of the most cheerful people I know. Now I am wondering if her cheerfulness was merely an act, an attempt to convince herself and others that all was well.
I am worried for Nat in her hospital bed, medicated so intensively that she is lost deep inside herself, crippled, shivering. Having battled depression most of my adult life I know how desperately I cling to that glimmer of hope that sustains me when the darkness begins. I can’t imagine how bleak it would be without it. I had to do something. I couldn’t just let Nat lie there feeling the emptiness eat her alive.
So I set out to show her that a healthy sense of hope is alive and well in the community. It is all around us. Sure, there is a lot of bad in the world, but there is a lot of good too. If you’re sitting in your house right now, go to your window – see that old lady with her smart coat and polished shoes? She has things that give her hope. See that guy rushing home from work in the rain? He has things that give him hope.
Are you sitting in your car, or a bus or train? See your fellow passengers – the lady in the bright, shiny car with the little girl in the booster seat who has fallen asleep with her face pressed against the window? They have things that give them hope. See that young guy with the briefcase battered at the corners and the strap that has the leather peeling off like sunburn? There are things that give him hope.
But I knew that to convince Nat that hope was still alive and well in the community I needed more concrete examples. So I went out into the street, notebook at the ready, a seeker of hope.
Kylie is a nurse at the local maternity hospital. She is 25, single, slightly overweight. She worries about money, her health and whether or not she’ll ever meet the man of her dreams. ‘One thing gives me hope every day,’ she says. ‘The cry of a newborn baby. It’s life in its purest form. It means that for at least another day the human race will continue to exist.’
Violet is 75. She has a beautiful rose garden which she tends everyday. Her roses give her hope. ‘When I see them bloom and flourish, even after being beaten down by a storm, I know I can never give up hope, because they don’t.’
Billy is 19. He works at the local supermarket. He left school at 15 because he had trouble with reading. Last year it was discovered he is dyslexic. He is doing well in his reading classes at college. His work skills have improved so much his boss has given him a pay rise. He hopes that this will help him attain his dream job of Assistant Manager.
Jane is recently divorced. She lets her dog swim in the bay even though it means he leaves muddy footprints on her cream carpet. She used to have two dogs but her husband took one to live with him when they divorced. He was drunk and abusive. She believes him to be capable of mistreating the dog but her house overlooks the park and when she sees her ex’s new girlfriend walking the dog, she feels hopeful. ‘The girl smiles as she walks the dog and frequently pats him,’ she says. ‘I figure if he can attract a woman who seems kind and friendly then there is hope he might have changed.’
Ruth’s son is a doctor in Africa. He has seen over two hundred children die of preventable diseases. Ruth worries when he goes to areas where there is a lot of fighting but when he sends her photos and stories of children whose lives have been changed by access to fresh drinking water, vaccination and schools, hope springs. ‘That’s what they mean when they say hope springs,’ she says. ‘Hope rises brightly, like a star, out of despair.’
Rachel is seven months pregnant. She has had three miscarriages. Her husband wanted to give up trying for a baby – he couldn’t handle the disappointment and grief of losing the babies – but she never gave up hope. ‘I used to dream of a little face of what I thought was an angel but what I later realised was my baby. Those dreams convinced me not to give up, not to lose hope.’
The busdriver lives in hope that his footy team – the rank outsiders – will win the Grand Final. Mary, who works for the RSPCA lives in hope that every animal she rescues will find a good family to love them. Kristy, age 7, lives in hope that one day she will see the Tooth Fairy, for real.
A local community. Going about its daily business. Different people awash with differing hopes that unfold, warm, uncrushed, blooming like the delicate petals of a flower. I see them at every corner, leaning on their fenceposts, cupping hope in their hands, and I am glad they have not given up.
I hope this goes part of the way to convincing Nat that not all hope is lost, that hope abounds, gloriously. And I wonder, what is it that gives you hope?