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Looking for the language of hope

As the days run down to year’s end, a cog has begun to click in the brain. It’s oiled with melancholy I have to admit, and sadness. It comes from this: there should be something to write about to lift the spirits when looking out into the world and a new year beckons. And of course, one reassuringly tells oneself, there are: the small beauties of an ordinary day, a stranger’s smile, the call of a friend, the touch of a loved one, the warmth of the sun on your face, a piece of music that drops like a stone into your soul. Why, there is even stopping to smell the roses.

But a pall, gathering over the past months, now comes in from the horizon like a slow-moving  storm. It seems to rise and fall in its reach between sky and earth; it darkens and then lightens, it touches the shoulders then lifts. Maybe it’s playing with me. Maybe I’ve transported myself into a surreal world where I’ve gone ‘disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind/down the foggy ruins of time’. (Apologies Bob Dylan)

And it is here that the fear grows that perhaps the words are drying up (yes I know how ironic he’s using words to describe a lack of a flow of words). But these are the words that might spring from the well of optimism. What verb leaps, what noun stands fortress-like, what subject and object awaits the promise of dreams. For I am in search of the language of hope. To think it and speak it. To hope against hope.

Of course, you could have been on this search every year of every decade of every century. As an example, the Imperial War Museum lists the major conflicts that have had an impact on the lives of people from Britain and its Empire since 1900. They include the Boer War, world wars I and II, Russian Civil War, Third Afghan War, Irish War of Independence, Irish Civil War, Spanish Civil War, Arab Revolt in Palestine, Jewish insurgency in Mandated Palestine, Partition of India, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Malayan Emergency, Yangtze Incident, Korean War, Kenya Emergency, Cyprus Emergency, Vietnam War, Suez Crisis, Brunei Revolt, Indonesian Confrontation, Aden Emergency, The Troubles, Falklands Conflict, Gulf War, Sierra Leone Civil War, Bosnian War, Kosovo War, War in Afghanistan, Iraq War, Libya Conflict, Syria Conflict, Yemen Conflict and Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. 

Now, merge in all the other civil wars, wars of liberation, internecine conflicts globally that haven’t involved Britain. Not a day has gone by, and is still passing without a shot ringing out for the just and the unjust.

War is not, of course, on our doorstep, but it is in our house. The global village is in the palms of our hands and on the walls of our sitting rooms. Could here and now be more acute? So we know the war in Ukraine, immediately, the war in Gaza, immediately. We know the massacres, the natural destruction and the manmade ones, immediately.


'In the gathering days to year’s end, a phrase will rise – as it does every year: Peace on Earth, goodwill to all.'


It would a desperate sigh of resignation to pull the curtains closed on the world. There can only be shadows if there is light, so it is in the light that words, this language of hope, must be sculpted.

In the gathering days to year’s end, a phrase will rise – as it does every year: Peace on Earth, goodwill to all. The phrase carries a warmth of common humanity. Unfortunately, common humanity has shown itself through history to be rather tribal than universal. 

In the mid-80s, singer-songwriter Sting wrote the song Russians. It was based on fears of nuclear mutually assured destruction and included the line: ‘I hope the Russians love their children too.’ Last year he re-recorded the song because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying that he ‘never thought [the song] would be relevant again. But, in the light of one man’s bloody and woefully misguided decision to invade a peaceful, unthreatening neighbour, the song is, once again, a plea for our common humanity.’

Perhaps, it is in the exception that proves the rule of our humanity towards each other. The large and small kindnesses that lift the spirits and may improve life. Therein lies the hope.




Warwick McFadyen is an award-winning journalist. He has won two Walkley Awards and four Quill Awards. He has published several books of poetry. The latest is 21+4 Poems. His prose and poems have also appeared in Quadrant, Overland and Dissent.

Main image: (Getty images)

Topic tags: Warwick McFadyen, Hope, Sting, Dylan, Russia, Ukraine



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