The arc of history
I have been reading Michelle Obama’s superb autobiography, and despite her liberal, progressive, open-minded, intelligent husband being replaced as President by his exact antithesis, she is still optimistic. She points out that all progress cannot be rolled back, and that Trump only won by a quirk of the electoral system not because a majority of Americans support him – Clinton polled a staggering 3 million more votes. She also highlights one of my favourite quotes, Barack Obama in turn quoting Martin Luther King Jnr – “the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice”. I had this printed and framed as a present for my husband the Christmas after Trump won the election, and I just keep on believing it.
The haters in this world cause a disproportionate amount of trouble, and make a disproportionate amount of noise, but they are not even close to being the full story. Don’t focus attention on them, look instead for the helpers. The millions of people who quietly and selflessly, day in day out, do their bit to help the world become a better place. The people in helping professions – teachers, healthcare workers, firefighters, lollipop ladies. The volunteers who run their school’s PTA or organise their local food bank, or litter pick on a Saturday morning or coach the children’s football team. Those who donate blood or register as organ donors or pump breastmilk for their local neonatal unit. Those who stop for a chat with the homeless person they see every morning on their way to work, or help a tired parent carry their pram up the stairs at the tube station, or willingly give up their seat on the train to someone who needs it more than they do. There are so many of them.
The natural world
We all know the horrible damage that humankind’s relentless industrialisation has inflicted on the natural world, and it is easy to despair. But just look, as I did at the weekend, at a disused or lightly used railway line. In no time at all nature has taken back over. Weeds grow between the tracks, buddleia burgeons, sycamores self-seed. On a country walk on Monday we passed through a delightful thickly wooded copse. A little signpost said that these trees had been planted in 1987 as a memorial to a local resident, well within my lifetime, and now they are a flourishing and stunningly lovely eco-system. Given just a tiny chance, which hopefully our growing awareness of the climate emergency is going to provide, nature is so resilient and so beautiful.
The little things
The number one lesson I learnt in therapy was to appreciate the little lovely every day things without letting them be overshadowed by worries about the big stuff I can’t control. I say ‘learnt’; ‘am learning’ would be a better phrase, as it am still very much a work in progress. I keep returning to the famous prayer: ‘Lord, grant me the courage to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference’. Anxiety about the big things inevitably creeps in, and sometimes it should as it motivates us to action. But, when we can, let’s just enjoy the smell of rain on hot pavements or the saline tang of the sea, a vase of flowers on the table, stop to gaze at and smell a beautiful rose in someone’s garden, relax into the warm water pounding your shoulders as you shower, relish the soft warmth of a child’s hand in yours or the tight hug from someone you love.
My ten year old is not particularly engaged with party politics. She has been exposed to a lot of political debate in our household, and from a tiny toddler she has been dragged out to canvass or distribute leaflets, but, for the moment at least, traditional political engagement isn’t her passion. But now she is developing her own views and values, and an awareness of causes she really cares about. She is my conscience, holding me to account on the amount of single use plastic our household consumes. She has given up beef and lamb because of concerns about her carbon footprint. Thanks to her encouragement I have got hold of a pile of anti-idling leaflets, and we are going to be distributing them to the drivers we see idling on the school run. On Sunday she will be holding a cake sale outside our house to raise money for Save the Children’s Syria appeal, as she continues to be both moved and angered by the plight of child refugees.
I am very proud of her, and I know from friends with similarly aged children, as well as the stellar example of Greta Thunberg, that she is far from being alone. Children and young people understand the problems and the need for change and they are prepared to both campaign for it and to take direct personal action. The future can be a bright one for them if we follow their lead!