The essence of hope: the dangers of Covid19 optimism.


Hope is not optimism,

which expects things

to turn out well,

but something rooted

in the conviction

that there is good

worth working for.


– Seamus Heaney


Hope is one of these intangible commodities. If we lack or lose it we diminish our abilities both individually and collectively to achieve and to continue. It is an emotion which has been very present in a lot of the conversations and exchanges which I have had this week.

Hope was there when with others I attended the NHS Mobilisation meeting chaired by the Cabinet Secretary. It was a hope that through deliberate and focussed action we could begin to restore NHS and social care services to where they had previously been, learning lessons from the pandemic response and ensuring that we are as prepared as possible for the coming winter. It is a hope not based on day-dreaming but solid hard work which through a cautious ending of lockdown and opening up of society means that we will meet the current and future challenges of Covid19 with as much preparedness as possible.

Hope was there when I spoke to a manager who had to deal with the family of a co-worker who had died as a result of Covid19. It was there when I spoke to the family themselves. It was a hope that tomorrow would be better, that they would slowly be able to put back together the shattered pieces of their lives and find a new way of living without the strong presence of their loved one. It was a hope which they desperately needed to pull them through into their future  because right now they are drowning in the emptiness of loss and the pain of grieving.

Hope was there when I read a beautiful pain full letter from a mother unable to hug and hold her adult daughter because she lives in a residential home and is subject to the current restrictions on visiting, including the wearing of PPE and social distancing. The mother’s poignancy was the hope that the time would come soon when they could be properly together as once they had been in an intimacy of touch and belonging.

Hope was there when with so many others I was moved by the hundreds of stories which flooded Twitter and Facebook on Wednesday during Care Home Day as folks took time to share stories of amazing compassion and care; as they reminded us all that care homes are places of life and vibrancy, places where individuals are enabled to life to their fullest and when the time comes to end their days surrounded by dignity and solace. There was a real sense on Wednesday of a hope that sometime soon we will return to something like normal and that sounds of laughter and song, of banter and memory will fill the silence that has enveloped so many care homes. But in doing so without forgetting the pain and sadness of the last few months and with a desire to hold in fragile memory those who have been lost.

Hope is an essential requirement to enable all of us to find the energy to deal with challenge, whether professional or personal. I recognise that there are countless thousands who need to believe that there is hope. I know that too many have lost their jobs and their sense of self and personal worth as a result of this pandemic. I know that too many have been deeply scarred by the effects of lockdown on their mental health and wellbeing. I know that there are countless families who will never be the same because they have lost someone to the virus. I know too that there are thousands who fear for the future because they run a business or work for an organisation and are uncertain about how or when they can get back to ‘business as usual.’

So, hope is an essential commodity to enable life to flourish and for purpose to have direction.  

But and it is a big but – that hope has to be grounded in some degree of reality. Hope has to be rooted in truth and grounded in carefulness. As the poet Heaney says it is a hope that has to be worked for. So, it was with a sense of real despair I heard yesterday some of the words of Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister. I am deeply concerned that by suggesting that ‘It will all be over by Christmas’ that he is in danger of echoing the mistakes of those of a previous generation who thought that resolution and restoration would result with a quick victory over an enemy in 1914 and that all would be well by Christmas.

Covid19 will not be over by Christmas. We will live with it for many years to come. We will have to live with its pernicious ability to destroy lives and shatter love. But with discovery and ingenuity we will discover how to control and lessen its harm and how to heal those whom it hurts. But we are not there.

A false hope is a dangerous illusion because it prevents caution and fosters reckless action. Anyone who has lived through the hell of these last few months in the care home sector, who is still not able to freely see and be with loved ones, will know the huge sacrifices that have been made by so many. We risk throwing all that away, we risk the escalation of danger, should we be deluded into thinking that things are about to be sorted and solved. Hope has to be rooted in sense rather than expediency, lives matter more than anything and we cannot use them as the vehicle for populism. Hope has to be worked for.

So, I end the week with hope. It is a hope grounded in the knowledge that by safe and slow steps we are edging forward as communities and as a nation. It is a hope that we will support one another through the days ahead in a way that affirms our humanity, recognises the pain of others and upholds those who are most in need of support. It is a hope that by collective support and cautious planning rather than naïve rhetoric we will meet the challenges of the autumn and winter ahead.

For one thing I am sure of is that Covid19 has changed us all in ways which are unimaginable.

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” 

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring