Hoping for hope

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What does it take to lose hope? For the 4,000 people who attended the anti-lockdown protests in Melbourne last month, an odd coalition of the frustrated, the scared, the angry and the hurt, it takes 18 months of pain and the ensuing changes in employment status, isolation from family and friends, and losses in lifestyle and individual liberties.

To sum up, a loss of hope had people marching and throwing missiles at cops, brought on by the collective experience of ‘same day’ powerlessness, accumulative distrust of leaders, and a lack of clarity about exit plans.

The Melbourne protest ended with 218 people arrested and six police officers hospitalised; in more peaceful protests, 2,000 anti-lockdown protesters gathered in Brisbane, 1,000 in Adelaide and more than 1,000 in Perth. Violent clashes in Sydney were attended by 250 people, according to police, of whom 47 people were charged with ‘breaching public health orders or resisting arrest, among other offences’. One ringleader in Sydney, Anthony Khallouf, was sentenced to eight months’ incarceration for his role, as ‘multiple breaches of public health orders’. Further demos followed throughout NSW.

These anti-lockdown protesters have been the visible face of this erosion of hope. It is easy and perhaps reassuring to dismiss them as ‘Jesus is my vaccine’ fundamentalists, anti-vaxxers and the like. But they also doubtless included those newly broken financially by lockdowns. Small business owners and staff. People made redundant time and sometimes time again. Parents, partners, and average punters fed up with being told to shut up and sit in the corner. People like you and me, who are scared, furious, broken financially and emotionally, looking around for someone to blame. Or to hit. 

Even the most impervious mind or hardiest spirit can be excused for thinking bleak thoughts or feeling overwhelmed these days. We’ve been sashaying through the repeated dance steps of lockdowns, financial and interpersonal stresses, COVID tests, jabs, and tiered exposures sites. I look back on four Covid tests in a fortnight, with gratitude for the health professionals who quizzed, swabbed, probed as carefully as they could.

We, many of us covering our ears and repeating that reliable and time-honoured mantra, ‘Not listening, not listening’, keep repeatedly lurching through the caterwauling of heated claims and counter claims of poor policies, inept governance and conspiracy theories in social and mass media.

 

'There is life beyond what we see and experience today. There is a future we can reach without punching horses, coughing on capsicum spray fumes, or further extending lockdown timelines. Let's not lose hope.'

 

A sense of hope in returning to a sense of normalcy, business as usual — our hope in getting through the pandemic pressures — seems to be in increasingly short supply. The past 18 months has had an impact, acknowledged daily in media conferences by premiers and ministers.

Between 16 March 2020 and 25 April 2021, more than 15 million MBS-subsidised mental health-related services occurred, often via the phone or videoconferencing. We’ve seen huge numbers of people seeking help from Lifeline, Kids Helpline and Beyond Blue. In fact, Lifeline recorded its biggest ever day of work on 3 August, fielding 3,345 calls.

Zoning out or getting sucked in to the 24-news cycle and commentariat wars are both understandable but unhelpful responses. It may sound like pie-eyed optimism, but while guarding our best interests and weighing the words of leaders and our leading medical and scientific lights, we need to stay hopeful.

How? By remembering there is a future beyond this virus. Jonas Salk, the American virologist and medical researcher who helped us eliminate polio, said that ‘hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality’.

There is a lot to be hopeful about on this day, at this stage, compared to 2020.  We are slowly understanding the impact of long Covid. We are seeing vaccination rates rise, albeit spasmodically and in pockets. In Australia our death rate is low. We look across at other nations and see them re-opening, closing, and re-opening again.

I feel that sense of hope when I witness the hard work or medical staff, or police, and social welfare staff, ambulance officers, apparatchiks and the many essential workers who have kept us going across Australia

There is the hope that I feel as a father, seeing kids appreciate their health, the fact that they have a roof over their heads, clothes to wear, nutritious food to eat and things to do — even if those necessary and engaging activities are largely online. Educational and technological difficulties notwithstanding, they have hope that things will change for the better.

I feel, share and receive hope as a partner, despite the tears, the bleak outlooks, the angry frustrations and thwarted ambitions that keep on coming on. We vent at plans wrecked yet again by the realities of living in a locked-down country. It is a gift, to be able to confide in someone. It is a luxury that many of our friends and family members in single households don’t have at this point in time; someone they can share turn to in the same domicile; someone they can sit next to and whinge to.

Truth be told, there is an insidious envy and a grudging anger amongst Melburnians and Sydneysiders scanning social media feeds of more lucky Australians in other states; there is also a hope that equilibrium will be restored. That travel will again be possible, and loved ones will be seen, toasted, danced with, hugged and laughed with. Held.

Endurance is the quality that allows hope to survive and be replenished, in the face of despair. ‘Hope,’ wrote the poet Emily Dickinson, ‘is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.’

It may sound naïve, and perhaps I am. But I believe that hope is powerful. Feeling cooped up and pissed off? Exercise solidarity, as much as that is possible, and live in hope.

The Conversation has suggested that ‘this angst-driven reaction of locking down with low community transmission of COVID is not a viable long-term strategy. This is because the coronavirus is increasingly likely to become endemic, meaning it will settle into the human population.

The reality seems to be that even with a high vaccination rate, vulnerable groups will experience disproportionate risk of ‘COVID-19 infection, serious disease and death’. In other words, unless we ensure the vulnerable reach a safe vaccination point, even if the general vaccination mark reaches 80 per cent, we may expect to see ‘substantial avoidable illness and death’ in First Nations Australians, Australians living with disabilities, prison populations and people living in rural and remote locations.

We live in unequal times, as have all previous generations, and policy setting is a juggling act between experts, politicians and lobbyists. Surviving policy, and surviving COVID-19 holistically, are universal aims. They demand hope and forbearance. Those are big asks.

At the time of publishing, Australia had seen 66,318 cases of COVID-19, with 1276 people hospitalised because of it, and there had been 1060 deaths.

These statistics pale into significance with those of other nations, where life goes on and, like us, people wrestle with what life means for them, their family and their friends. There is life beyond what we see and experience today. There is a future we can reach without punching horses, coughing on capsicum spray fumes, or further extending lockdown timelines. Let’s not lose hope. 

Lifeline is available 24-hours on 13 11 14. 

 

 

Barry GittinsBarry Gittins is a Melbourne writer.

Main image: Close-Up Of Man Praying. (Okeyphotos/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Barry Gittins, Hugh Mackay, kindness, revolution, Covid-19, pandemic, humility

 

 

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Existing comments

A wise and incisive article. Thank God for services such as Lifeline! In a society where so many live alone the volunteers who man those phones are a godsend. In Queensland we are very, very lucky. The lockdowns have worked well, although there have been exceptions for some and not for others which appeared somewhat inequitable. At a time like this it is timely to ask what brings society together and what doesn't.


Edward Fido | 21 September 2021  

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