Friday, 22 February 2013

Hold on, Hope.

Children are tenacious little critters.
Exhibit A:
7.38 a.m.
“Matron, I accidently got the wrong cereal and I really don’t like it so can I go and get some toast instead?”
“Why don’t you try and have a few bites of the cereal first for me? Just so it isn’t wasted. Then you can have some toast.”
“Oh but Matron, it’s really giving me a tummy ache.”
“Hmm, really? It’s just normal cereal, Poppet, I think you’ll survive a couple of mouthfuls.”
“But the sugar on it really makes my teeth hurt.” (Side note: Never have I ever heard of a child complaining that their cereal had too much sugar before.)
“Right, I see. Is there any part of your body that it’s not affecting?!”
“Well, actually, now you mention it, I do have a bit of a headache too…”
Needless to say, she got her toast eventually.

Exhibit B:
10.28 p.m.
Knock, Knock.
“Matron, I can’t sleep.”
“Oh dear, Sweetie. Why don’t you snuggle back down into bed and think about which Disney princess you’d like to be? Sometimes when you try too hard to fall asleep it can make it worse so it’s good to have something else to think about. Hope you get back to sleep soon. Night, night.”
11.36 p.m.
Knock, Knock.
“Matron, I still can’t sleep and I miss my Mummy.”
“I know you do, Lovely, but you’ll feel much better in the morning if you get a good night’s sleep. If you’ve thought all you can about Disney Princesses, why don’t you think about your top ten favourite animals. That should help take your mind off it, and you can tell me which ones you chose over breakfast. Sleep well, night, night.
12.25 a.m.
Knock, Knock.
“Matron, I still can’t sleep ‘cos I’ve got a song stuck in my head and it keeps going ‘round and ‘round…”
As you can imagine, I’ve had special training in getting songs out of children’s heads, so it was a good job she woke me up to tell me this.

My favourite incident of this childish ability to hold out against the odds happened at supper one evening. There’s a little boy in my boarding house who is in the fortunate position of being unbearably cute. He has a round little face, impeccable manners and a tiny Manchester United onesie to sleep in, the sight of which would melt the hardest heart of even the staunchest Manchester City supporter. This propensity for rotund cuteness has earned Jack the nickname of ‘The Bundle’ amongst us staff. He’s usually relatively quiet and doesn’t often volunteer conversation with adults. However, this supper time was different. Just beforehand I’d been tasked with the daunting prospect of rehearsing the National Anthem with the children ready for Remembrance Sunday. As I’m about as musical as a cow and the children can be unenthusiastic about House Prayers, I realised that, like the Americans in the Vietnam war, I was going to have to focus on winning hearts and minds, before I dropped the bomb on them. I sat down at supper in between Jack and Graham with a great big smile plastered across my face and said, with no small measure of forced eagerness, “Boys, you should be very excited as I have something super-fun planned for House Prayers this evening!”
            The Bundle dropped his fork in glee, “Great! Are we getting a dog?”
            “Er, no. Not quite.”
            “No, not that either.”
            “A dog and fireworks?”
            His hope simply refused to die. How could I tell him that it was just going to be a few strained verses of God Save the Queen?

People often talk about ‘holding on to hope’ when life goes pear-shaped. Everything from self-help books to inspirational fridge magnets implore us to hold to hope, Mumford & Sons amongst others have sung about it, and I have even heard the word ‘hope’ used as an acronym, standing for ‘Hold On, Pain Ends’. This is all very well, but what do you do when hope slips from your grasp? When the cords of the lifeline you were holding onto fray and split, what keeps you from drowning?

In seeking to answer these questions, it has become apparent that I, along with many others, have misunderstood the tenacity of hope. Although I have, thus far, lived a relatively charmed existence, occassionally I've found that neither cheesy mnemonics nor my own attempts to be positive really cut the mustard. It seems that it is only when things go utterly tits up and holding on to hope is no longer a possibility that we learn how tightly Hope is holding onto us. Just as a child may think it is holding on for dear life to its mother, you can be certain that the mother is holding on much more securely to the child. The child may be distracted and let go, or grow tired and loosen its grip, but the mother’s hold is sure and strong. So it is with hope. 

And so, when the big mean Matron in the boarding school of life has nothing to say but ‘no’ to your hopeful suggestions, don't exhaust yourself further by trying to hold on to the impossible. Trust that hope, like sand, will slip through your fingers if you try to grab it, but place your feet firmly upon it and you'll find that it can more than hold your weight.

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