How do we find hope at a time that feels as if human beings have forgotten to have any? A daily onslaught of truly distressing and terrible news has left many of us lacking the faith we need in order to believe that deep down, we're all going to be ok. To be perfectly honest, some of us don't seem like we'll ever be ok again and it's hard to find a reason to be jovial without it seeming crass or insensitive while those people piece back together their lives.
I found a reason to hope though and I had to share it. If you need it today, feel free to cling to it like a rock on a stormy night at sea. I know I have lately.
My grandfather is one of life's special human beings. He fought in a war and returned home to become a factory worker, raising his 3 children and semi adopted niece. Working hard to move his family from a from a single bed house up to one in which a family could breathe, he believed in the joy of life and loved nothing more than a cheeky bet on a horse and a pint of bitter at the end of a working week. This man is the one who first taught me the power of story telling and would hold my sister and I captive for hours with his made up rhymes and long narratives about Jerry the Goblin.
I remember my grandfather coming in from bitter cold evenings, warming his hands and muttering in the kitchen of my parents house about the "Damn Fat Cats" when he and his entire work force called a 5 month strike to support the unionised movement from a 39 hour working week to a 35 hour one. I watched proudly as his speeches were shown on the news and in slight horror that this story teller was out in the cold, yelling across the picket line at men in cars we could simply never afford.
This man has been a hero to me my whole life. He smiled indulgently at everything I ever wrote and always swore he'd sit with a pint with any man so long as he wasn't cruel. He couldn't abide a person's cruelty.
So a few weeks ago I was more than slightly emotional watching him celebrate his 90th birthday. Age isn't kind and it has robbed him of his ability for speeches and to tell tales that make us cry with laughter. However, he still saved one very special lesson for me on his biggest birthday yet.
Presented with his birthday cake, we gathered around him, cameras at the ready and waiting for him to blow out his candles. He seemed to lose his moment in time and gazed for a moment into a middle distance none of us could see. My aunts, eager for him not to forget what he was doing, called to him, reminding him to blow out his candles. Then I realised.
"Stop. He's making a wish. Everyone just stop."
This man, who has lived through strikes, wars, recessions and all the trials of family life, still took his moment to make a wish on his special day. This man, who has seen more things than I will ever know, still believes in the power of wishing on a birthday candle. In a month that has felt like we really have no hope with the tragedies and terrible political games that we have seen, I am glad for that moment. Life can be hard and cruel, it can be uncertain and it can leave us gulping back tears at details in eye witness accounts but here's a man who has known such times and he still makes a wish.
Be the 90 year old who doesn't give up hope. Make that wish.