29 Jun Be Alive: to Hope (despite the muddle of real life)
I had a long overdue conversation with an old friend the other week. She now resides on the other side of the world, but we picked up the conversation despite the years since we last heard each other’s voices.
We talked about the interesting routes our lives have taken over the past few years, and how things don’t happen as quickly as we would like.
If you had told me nearly 6 years ago, when I was diagnosed with post-natal depression and anxiety, that the route to recovery would take so long, I would have been inconsolable.
Every year, or at the start of a new term, Matt and I have begun with fresh hope – that this would be the year we enjoyed ourselves, that we were able to finally kick back or get stuck into some project or other, that this would be the year we find some breakthrough in our health. We were constantly thinking that wellness was just around the next corner, over the next hill.
And there have been times of rest, of fun. But we have not reached the promised land we have been seeking.
And, if it had just been my post-natal depression we were dealing with, I think we might have felt more of that freedom some time ago.
But as you un-pick one thing – one element of your previously held beliefs or structures (as we have been doing over the past 5 years) – it destabilises everything else. All you once held dear.
All your attempts to control, or contain. All your efforts to keep up appearances and maintain a strong front.
And on top of that, there are all the things you can’t control, that happen unbidden and unexpectedly: Griefs, and changes of fortune and circumstances.
But, still, in spite of all the evidence I mount a positive outlook,
despite setbacks and wrong turns,
I am hopeful.
Like a weeble, I wobble, but I refuse to stay down. I think this will be the time of fruitfulness, of satisfying work, of calm and peace and health. And this was what my friend repeated to me, across the oceans and continents today, that even when things don’t go our way, even when tragedy strikes – again -, even when we are back here again, we have hope.
we are older and wiser, this is not the same hope we had six years ago.
It is not naive optimism, or blindly putting one foot in front of the other. It is not thinking that even if I make no changes, somehow it will all still work out.
I no longer have the assumed invincibility of youth.
As a teenager, I remember judging the distance between cars and running across the road through the narrowest of gaps between traffic, so convinced I was that I could not be hurt. And I remember, at 15 years old, getting the train across the city to track down a certain man who was meant to meet me and hadn’t turned up, with only a vague recollection of his address and very limited funds, in the middle of the night. Filled with the adrenaline of youth that told me I would be fine. I was too quick, too young, too green.
I am no longer green.
I know I can be hurt. I know just hoping for the best will not necessarily get me the outcome I long for.
I was listening to Maria Popova, the brilliant mind behind BrainPickings, being interviewed for On Being last week. She talked about, among other things, hope. She said;
“Critical thinking without hope is cynicism, but hope without critical thinking is naivety.
I try to live in this space between the two, to build a life there.”
I like this.
And what this looks like, I am still learning.
I wonder if the critical thinking that keeps the hope alive, perhaps starts with being awake to today.
Accepting all it brings, without judgement.
Not following some fantasy of perfection, and not being convinced it will all end in sorrow.
To take each moment and acknowledge it.
Recognising the joys, but also seeing the pain.
It is easy to want to celebrate the good stuff, and this weekend there was a lot of it; birthday parties and ponies and girls squealing in the car, and long chats with a good friend, and family eating together outside, and the next generation of cousins giggling and chasing in the garden. There were new flowers that opened and on the whole, sunshine.
But if I think life will always be like this, I am naive.
There was also squabbles and the threat of rain when sunshine was necessary. There was moments of anxiety and painful conversations. There was exhaustion and not having enough energy to end the day well with the kids.
But, if I think life will always be like this I become a cynic, always anticipating the worst case scenario.
I don’t want a linear life, stretched out along a rope with cynicism at one end and naivety the other. Constantly ping-ponging between the two depending on mood and circumstance.
No, instead I want to create a platform where ropes are interlaced together – somewhere to stand and attempt to build a life.
Ropes of acknowledgement and acceptance. Of joy and loss.
It is uneven underfoot but the ropes will hold me up.
Because I am alive. Awake to the day. Not waiting until all is perfect and we have reached the promised land.
Accepting the muddle of real life. In all it’s beautiful brokenness.
And I suppose this is the truth I am trying inarticulately to stumble towards. This is where hope resides.