“Hope is the thing with feathers”, wrote Emily Dickinson. It was her poem that occurred to me as I caught a feather that had drifted from the tower of Murcia Cathedral (pictured right). The last time I had been outside of my country had been March 2020 and the world was very different. Since that time, the world has locked down for weeks and months, started wearing masks, adapted to online platforms, become afraid of one another, and then started again. Preparing to travel had felt terrifying and new, the world somehow a much larger and more dangerous place, yet here I now was. Thousands of feet below a tower, centuries in the making, looking around at a world I’d thought I’d never see again.
Fear is interesting. It creates that desire to stay home, where we are safe. It whispers to us that the unfamiliar is dangerous: so better to avoid the great wide world, better to hide from the future because we know these will somehow be dark places. Fear tells us that other countries have more corrupt systems, that people from other places are trying to steal our very lives from under us. When I ask people, “what will the future be like?”, the go-to answer for everyone is that we will suffer some sort of world ending calamity be it through climate change, killer viruses or simple greed and corruption. Trauma Psychiatrist Bessle Van Der Kolk says it’s part of being human. We survive by imagining the worst.
Here’s the problem though: fear allows us to survive but hope allows us to thrive. If we listened to fear, we would never have any space for hope.
At this moment, I feel that hope is following me because I see it everywhere. From David Attenborough’s speech at COP26 (“we must use this opportunity to create a more equal world and our motivation should not be fear, but hope.”), to our Changemakers Project debating laws to make things better this November, to our project on imagining a preferred future with partners across Europe; hope and its feathers are calling to me in a world that is trying to wake up after Covid-19. It’s asking what sort of a world we could have if we were all a little braver, a little more willing to take action, a little more willing to thrive.
Where I am staying, in Southern Spain, the climate is far kinder than the UK. The sun and temperate rainfall mean that plants thrive here and all around the region, we are surrounded by trees that are bursting with oranges, lemons and pomegranates. I keep thinking that, if this is what plants do when they are given the right conditions, what might it be like if we give those same conditions to people.
I hope to find out.