Two weeks before the very first lockdown, I had just finished writing my book How To Be Hopeful and handed it over to my publisher. I had spent a year reading, talking, and writing about hope
A week later, our Prime Minister Boris Jonson announced the first lockdown, and the world changed utterly.
I did a few rewrites, a global pandemic not being something you could or would want to ignore when you are writing about hope – but not as many as you might think. In many ways the sources of hope I discovered, and the reasons that hope is important, stayed the same.
Since then a lot of people in chats on zoom and in interviews asked me- did COVID change your ideas about hope?
And the truthful answer, is no. The pandemic confirmed my ideas about hope, tested them, proved them right.
During these strange, difficult days, in front of all of our eyes, we saw what matters, and what gives our lives meaning. Despite the very real troubles of the world and the stories we are told about each other (that humans are bad, selfish, not to be trusted) the truth is we yearn to help each other and to connect (see how many donated to foodbanks, took care of their neighbours, filled their windows with beautiful images and words).
It also confirmed to me that when we fear scarcity (there won’t be enough toilet rolls, pasta, money, medicine) we panic and behave badly.
It is groundless, pointless, useless fears we need to confront, and comfort and reassure those who are scared instead of judging them. Forgive ourselves and each other for what we did when we were just trying to survive. Hold on to the points of light: those many stories of hope and kindness that those years were full of.
Hope grew for many of us as we saw how we can take care of and stick up for each other even in the darkest days.
I realised during this time that for me the biggest source of hope is the natural world. This year of COVID returned nature and hope to me, and for that I can only be grateful, and full of joy.
I found hope in the fact that even with not much except time and a pair of sturdy boots, I could experience peace, joy, and beauty, every day, for free, just by walking in the park or the woods.
Plenty of us discovered or rediscovered this simple joy for the first time in years. In Oxleas Woods near me, kids made dens, and someone put the rope swing back up for everyone to play on, strangers said hello, and dogs tore about gleefully teaching us a thing or two about how to live well.
It was lovely. To be reminded of how much beauty was on our doorsteps, and as the parameters of our world shrunk, our connections with our own little patch of earth got deeper, richer, more meaningful.
Being with, and in nature, slowing down and watching, helped me come to the realisation that what I had to do was to allow myself to be what I am, to feel what I feel. To notice the clouds, to let the storm be and let it pass, as storms do.
Nature restored me to myself. I saw that it did the same for so many other people too, and this gave me hope: knowing how precious this all is we will fight to protect and defend it. I saw friends and colleagues on social media all over the world, experiencing wonder in nature, having the same thoughts and conversations as I have been having.
I started thinking too that maybe it’s wrong that we say, “I love nature” and by doing so separate ourselves from it. Maybe there is an even deeper hope in understanding that we are nature, a part of this simple, complex, beautiful, awesome, deeply connected ecosystem, that we are connected by “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower” which is the power of life itself.
If we fully accept and absorb the fact that we are nature too, we belong here, this is not a visit to the woods, the beach or the park, but a homecoming, then hope springs, because our instinct for survival will serve for the survival of all living creatures, and there is hope too that in this fight for survival we can and will find deep joy and peace
This week I have been watching crows. Funny, sociable, noisy, clever crows. Finding out what we know (they use and make tools, store food, have funerals for each other, mate for life, tell stories, recognise faces, make friends with other species, including lucky us).
Crows gave me hope this week, with their resilience and their adaptability, their strength and their pluckiness. They solve problems, they get around things, they help each other. They take action.
We need to do this too. Use hope as a fuel for action. Ask ourselves: what do we hope for? Then: what can we do to achieve that? How can we make a better world, for ourselves, the whole world and everything in it?
Big thoughts, big dreams, and in the meantime, in the woods and the park and the beach, things carry on, adapting, surviving, changing, staying the same.
When I am tired, I go to the woods.
When I need my hope restoring, I go to the woods.
When I can’t get to the woods (or the beach, or the mountains, or the lake) – I sit in my garden and read Mary Oliver poems… so here is one for you which says everything there is to say, about how to live a good life, and about hope.
Much love and peace and hope to you all. See you in the woods one day…
Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.