Where are we going? What will the future be? Is it still safe to be hopeful?
Sometime in the past few weeks – I can’t remember exactly where, except that it was somewhere in the welter of media easily available on that thing we call the Internet – I heard a story retold, and it made me think again about how we think about the future.
It’s a familiar story – Moses, and the parting of the Red Sea. It’s usually depicted as a clear, straight, daylit path between two walls of water held firmly back on either side. But what if it wasn’t like that at all? What if the waters only parted an inch - two centimetres, in front of his nose? The only way to step forward then would be in hope, for the end was not in sight, was not even foreseeable, and in trust that the next step would take him forward instead of sweeping him off to sea.
We light this chalice, and may it light the way with a little more hope and a little more trust for all of us gathered together here today as take a few more steps forward together in that similarly unpredictable, unknowable, unforeseeable sea we call the future.
Reading - from “Disturbing the Peace - Interviews with Vaclav Havel”, by Karel Hvížd’ala
. . . [T]he kind of hope I often think about (especially in situations that are particularly hopeless, such as prison) I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us, or we don’t. . . . Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. . . . I feel that its deepest roots are in the transcendental, just as the roots of human responsibility are, though of course I can’t – unlike Christians, for instance — say anything about the transcendental. . . .
“Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpromising the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. In short, I think that the deepest and most important form of hope, the only one that can keep us above water and urge us to good works, and the only true source of the breathtaking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts, is something we get, as it were, from ‘elsewhere.’ It is also this hope, above all, that gives us the strength to live and continually to try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.”
Reading - “Peony”, by C.L. O’Dell
I am ready for the next
thing: rows and rows of wings
lifting off the earth
and telling me to stay.
The sky wriggles with life
and still, the air is gray
like any rock
above a grave.
So let me have this now
before the blossoms
take my absence
from the yard
and I am again only one-sided,
a living thing responsible
to live, finding myself in tall grass,
Dear Leonardo & Emmanuel,
If you are reading this letter it is because you both followed through with my wishes. Both of you were aware that with this letter in particular, I did not want it to be opened or read until the summer of 2060.
As you can clearly see from the date at the top, I am writing this letter to you in the summer of 2019.
Emmanuel, you were born almost 11 months ago, in August 2018. Leonardo: there are 10 years and two days that separate you and your younger brother. You were born in the summer of 2008.
Why has this letter been stored away for 42 years? Well, it was my strong and personal desire that you each have access to a copy when Emmanuel was the same age that I am now – 42 years old.
I am sure you are both curious and confused about the reason behind the long wait, as much as the mysterious contents contained in it. Please let me try to explain…
The opportunity to become a father – twice – has brought me some of the most extraordinary joy of my life. For the past year alone I have witnessed you both bond as new brothers in such a beautiful and naturally devoted way. I never thought I would see such a wondrous thing.
Leonardo, you are now nearing the final laps of primary school and soon you will begin a new chapter of your life in secondary school. You have excelled at school and your passion and natural talent for sport is often breathtaking. I am so proud of you and your first decade of achievements.
Emmanuel, even though you are still without words I am struck by how much you are able to communicate with that wide smile and those beaming eyes. You have the ability to light up a room with your composure and gregarious warmth. I am so grateful for all the love you have gifted your mother, brother and I in such a short space of time.
Unfortunately, I write this letter to both of you in an era of increasing uncertainty in the world.
Some say that things have never been better for humanity: incredible improvements in the quality of life for vast numbers of people across the globe, advancements in medicine, science, transportation and technology, human rights, and so on. Of course, all of these milestones are great – but they are also relative.
I cannot deny that many of the changes that are unravelling on so many fronts feel ill-thought-out, unprogressive and possibly senseless. My feelings of hopelessness are exacerbated by the unfathomable scale of climate change in particular. In recent years it has been renamed to “catastrophic climate-change”. We are often reminded that we only have a handful of years to save humanity and our natural world’s ecology from the point of no return. A no return that will be catastrophic. Rapid and mass extinction is now the norm.
These are all pretty big and terrifying ideas to get one’s head around, I have to say. It is also difficult to plan with any certainty for the future and I struggle to picture the world ten years from now, let alone 41 years. And when you are someone that cares deeply, it is even more painful to watch so little being done to reverse this on a political, commercial and global scale.
Before you were both born, I remember some friends saying to me: “Why would you bring children into this world, knowing how horrifically hopeless the future looks?” These opinions have some validity, even if in an extreme way. Of course, I do feel despair. I feel despair as a parent and as a citizen. I feel desperately powerless to change the harm we are collectively inflicting on the natural world.
But considering all of this foreboding, there is still a contrasting essence that I wanted to capture for you right now. An essence that I believe is universal and transcends the messiness of the material and social world, yet which is so important to our personal sanity. It is also my desire that I provide you my own interpretation of this essence, for as grown adults yourselves, I want my words to connect with you like those of a peer.
It is very plausible that either one or both of you are now parents, or not – or you have accumulated bonds and networks that function very much like a family. You will have built up many years of life experience. I do hope that the majority of this has been gained with limited pain, conflict and friction, but I am afraid to say that these conditions are an essential part of being human. There are no easy ways to circumnavigate the unforeseen and unpleasant. The best thing you can do is learn as much from these experiences, but even then you might not have been afforded this luxury.
In terms of friendships, it is likely you will have created many and lost some. Time, like a gentle tide moving away from the shoreline, is constantly reshaping the contours of our relationships. You realise that some people come into your life with ease and others struggle to belong and receive the attention that they deserve.
“So?” you might still be asking yourselves. “What is this wisdom you feel you need to share with us across space and time?”
Writing to you as your father, I can tell you quite honestly that there is something unique about the perspective I have gained from being your parent. Not only are your developing characters and temperament powerful forces in their own right. There is also a certain strength to your vulnerability. Your desire to learn, question and experience new things, that unbound energy, the pre-programmed ability to understand good and bad, to want to naturally care for things that are hurt or damaged. These are all qualities that I have seen played out through both of you over the past 10 years. Of course, there is still a long way to go in your journey as children, many unforeseen risks and challenges that might shape or harm you. But the fundamental essence that I am trying to articulate here and which is embodied in your qualities as my children is hope. You are proof of a certain naturally occurring hope.
Hope alone might not save the world, but seeing it move through both of you is to see how inextricably linked it is to being human. Right now it gives me the courage to see things through and to look at despair in the eyes.
There are so many more feelings and observations I would like to express here and share with you but I suspect this would be folly, as I cannot even begin to presume I will know how you have lived-out and built your life through these years.
This letter should remind you how you came to be in this world. Hope was not cultivated out of thin air, but was an essential building block to who you are today. Hope does and did exist and it was You. Please don't forget that, however difficult things have become.
Much love for now, the future and forever, your father.
As we prepare to return now to the ebbs and flows of daily ordinary life, let us remember that hope, like love, is not solely a feeling that we either have or don’t have: it is also an action.
Reason might tell us to despair. Reason might even turn out to be right. But love – of our children, our earth, our friends, other animals, even humanity itself - love says Act. Act in hope, act out of love, act because it is human to wonder and long and try to do the impossible. Look again at the world with the eyes of a child that doesn’t know what everything is yet, and you may find new possibilities, new hope, new ways to live.
May it be so.