If you read Jessica Best’s fantastic post last week about finding news about hope amid a very bad news week and a time generally when so much seems to be going wrong across the world, you’ll have read about her friend who avoids the news at all costs. Like me, you may have thought ‘what? How can you avoid the news?’. But the truth is, there’s so much stuff going on out there in the universe that’s awful that we don’t know about. So much that doesn’t even make it to the news. Things that are natural, but dreadful, like death, and other things that demonstrate the full and terrifying range of just what humans are capable of doing to themselves and one another. You have correctly identified at this point that this is not very cheery. I know. But please – allow me to elaborate.
I work for the emergency services in the UK. Specifically, on an ambulance. Birth and death and everything in between occurs there. Some of the things that occur make me want to lock myself in a box with some candy floss, a bunny and Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen on repeat, and never come out. Don’t get me wrong, some things make me want to jump up and down for joy, too. There are happy moments, many of them. But there are a lot of difficult sights. Blood and gore, yes, but mainly other things. Living, dying, love, hate, social and economical issues…the human condition under a microscope. And when all these things are presented in front of you and around you all day every day, it becomes quite difficult to step out of it and go back to your normal life, where you are often stunned to find that everything is carrying on exactly as it usually does, as if these things are not going on.
It’s natural of course – everyone lives in a bubble of sorts. It’s just that travelling between these bubbles – coming home at the end of the day (or night) and falling back into my comfort zone, is sometimes tricky. It’s not that my friends and family don’t care, it’s that mostly they wouldn’t understand. And I wouldn’t want to tell them because I don’t like to tell them that bad things happen. Even though, of course they know. They watch the news.
So between the news reports about the awful things that are going on all over the developed and developing worlds, and the ticker tape parade of accident, injury, incident and ridiculousness that pours in and out of my ambulance as if on a loop, where is the hope to be found? To be honest, sometimes in my job, I go out to incidents where there is none. Hope has left before we arrive. In those situations, we do the best job we can and then leave. But I keep looking, in the spaces and between the shadows and a lot of time, hope does appear.
I love, for example, having an elderly patient tell me their life story. Interesting life stories are everywhere, and I’ve encountered a lot of people who have lived incredibly remarkable lives. I love being shown their photos and guessing what they might have done for a living when they were younger. People aged over 80 often have the best stories to tell and the best advice to give. There’s a lot to learn about love and life from these remarkable human beings. Ageing and death are inevitable and extremely sad parts of life, but collecting stories from these people, and their tips for what makes a life well lived, give me hope for the future, instead of a fear of it. I once visited a patient with a terminal illness, who’s house was full of pictures and portraits of a particular seaside town that he and his wife had loved their whole lives, and visited often. I had never been there. It looked beautiful and seemed to make them so happy. But they couldn’t go there anymore. On my next day off, I hopped in the car and went to find it for myself. It was as beautiful as in the pictures I had seen in that house.
Sad and horrifying situations, and being so aware all the time of how fragile we are, and how finite life is, makes me more inclined to grasp various things by the **** and tell people how I feel about them more. Most of the time this results in a penchant for shouting ‘you’re so awesome, I love you so much’ in my friends faces’, but I’m not one for bottling things up. If I feel something about you, probably you’re going to know about it before too long. It’s a side effect of spending time so close to that fine line between life and death. Maybe it’s something you might not understand otherwise, but I’m constantly aware of how short life is. And I want to tell people things. So I do. Often they look at me like I’m weird, or think I spill my guts too much. Maybe I do. But hope is there too – in the expression of what people mean to me and the examining of it. Life is really too short to deny anything (except maybe that bank you robbed when you were drunk).
Lastly, hope is often found in strange places, in very tiny, often only bite-size amounts. But it is there. Spoonfuls of happiness can be found, for example, at the 100 Happy Project, in the status updates of my friends, the centre of a delicious doughnut (usually in the form of jam), along the pavement as I pound it relentlessly with my running shoes, and in the views of my beautiful back garden in all weathers. Basically – hope is everywhere if only you look. It’s in a different place for each of us and it will exist even where there is darkness and sadness and horror.
So don’t stop doing what you do. Don’t stop watching the news, or going out into the world and experiencing every strand of it. It’s not always easy viewing, or participating. But there is always more hope to find.
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