The Hopeful Heart
Let it all out” my husband will say, his kind eyes following me as I pace around the room, arms waving in the air making large sweeping gestures, stomping my feet, shouting and expelling as many swear words as possible; “I have had enough of this fucking war!”
My sister calls these episodes “meltdowns”. I think of them as “the sanity valve release” - a cathartic medicine and a necessary act on the activists’ path and I can highly recommend them.
War and hope are not natural bedfellows and yet the prelude to Syria’s war was rooted in just that - hope. As civilians rose up in their thousands across the country against its oppressive regime, it was hope that coursed through their veins. The shackles of fear that had held them captive for years were finally released, and in their place came inspirations of possibilities that drove people to take to the streets, chanting for freedom and dignity. They were driven by hope; hope for a better Syria. Hope for a better tomorrow.
Eight years, a massive blood bath and an ongoing; increasingly complicated war later, most of the population is destitute, injured, dead or disappeared. It would be easy to conclude that, hope too, has been murdered.
But, I have long shared the view of Václav Havel, the activist and former Czech president, that hope is an orientation of the heart. That it exists regardless of the prognoses for a particular situation. Sure, if you look at Syria through the lens above, it seems there’s little to be hopeful about. And yet, Syrian humanitarians have never given up on saving lives and supporting their communities to this very day; despite the threat to their own lives. We can now boast an active civil society, with organisations working on everything from women’s rights to civic engagement and youth empowerment - where none existed before.
True, Syrians can’t seem to agree on much, but now are overcoming our fears and daring to air out opinions and discuss politic, regardless of the ineloquence of our methods. There are now many Syrians working with non-violent principles who continue to work for freedom and dignity for all. What’s more, despite our indescribable calamity, it hasn’t cowed our brothers and sisters in neighbouring Lebanon and Iraq, who have also taken to the streets to protest against their regimes’ corruption and to call for their own rights. These may seem insignificant to the outsider, but they’re anything but.
These are exactly what early shoots of hope look like. The early markers of spring after a winter war.
When fighting for social change, we must take the long view and be prepared for the long haul. In the words of Nelson Mandela,
“I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
On this long journey, it is hope that keeps us fired up to continue AND eventually enables us to achieve our ends. That’s not to say that many other ingredients arent necessary. Working to make the world a better place takes stamina, resilience, courage, fortitude, patience, collaboration and a massive dose of humour. You need to rejoice at small wins, laugh at yourself, see - really see - beauty in our world and be present in it as much as you can muster.
But to me, it’s that deep-seated hope that we must ultimately rely on when everything else runs out. It’s the absolute belief and trust that what we see now, will not always be so. As Howard Zinn says,
“There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people’s thoughts, by unexpected eruptions or rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible.”
And so, as we come to the end of another year of war, and despite my many “meltdowns”, my fire of hope burns brightly. It is fed by all the daily acts of courage and humanity from every day engaged citizens that I have the honour to witness - the Syrian nurse who continues to serve her community despite her disabling injuries, the American artist who reaches out to offer to donate her exhibition profit to support our life-saving work, the British doctor who emails us to say she will raise money at her children’s hospital in London for ours in Syria.
The impossible will take a little while, but it is worth it and we must continue. Never despairing or losing belief; absolutely trusting that making the world better can and will happen.
That is what hope is.