We’re used to seeing bad news in the media. We’re used to the feelings of sadness and anger and wanting to shout at the telly because no-one is saying it the way we would be saying it. We’re used to wanting to hide from the news altogether. But this week, I was really struck by the intensity of a sense of lost hope, which seemed to touch our nation when the news came of the murder of Jo Cox MP.
The referendum debate had been heating up, the rhetoric and behaviour surrounding it ranged from ever more confusing to downright nasty and violent. The massacre in Orlando, where 49 people were killed in a gay bar by a gunmen, was still clear in our memories. We were already feeling raw. Jo Cox was the sort of person who put her head above the parapet and stood against hate. The irony and pain of her killing in the midst of everything else brought despair. What I was reading on social media wasn’t just grief and sorrow, it was, “I’m sick of the human race” stuff. Everywhere we looked, it seemed that people were being silenced, through accusation, fear and violence.
But beauty and hope have a way of breaking through despair. Resurrection follows death. People have responded with peace vigils, letters to MP’s to thank them for their service, hastags on social media that reflect Jo’s message of unity, donations to organisations making a different in people’s lives, and calls to improve the tone of the last few days of Referendum campaigning. The responses have been international, and they have been filled with love. The day after Jo’s death, I read this letter that someone had shared on Facebook. I really appreciated the share, and thought you might too:
Author E. B. White won numerous awards in his lifetime, and with good reason. Born in 1899, he was one of the greatest essayists of his time, writing countless influential pieces for both The New Yorker and Harper’s; in 1959, he co-authored the multi-million selling, expanded edition of The Elements of Style; he wrote children’s books which have gone on to become classics, such as Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web. He was also responsible for writing hundreds of wonderful letters.
In March of 1973, he wrote the following perfectly formed reply to a Mr. Nadeau, who sought White’s opinion on what he saw as a bleak future for the human race.
North Brooklin, Maine
30 March 1973
Dear Mr. Nadeau:
As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.
Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.
Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.
(Signed, ‘E. B. White’)