Is it possible for things to get any worse? Asking for a friend…

I recently stubbed a toe on the corner of my bed. Not the big toe, but the one next to it (is that one called an “index toe” I wonder?).

As soon as I did it, there was a moment before I felt anything. I surmised in this moment that it was going to hurt quite a bit; and I was not wrong. For a few seconds I chose not to look for fear of seeing my toes scattered across the floor like miniature pub skittles.

Sudden and overwhelming pain is quite a thing. There is a noticeable correlation between the intensity of the pain and the immediate need to let go of all polite behavioural norms. I soon realised, of course, that an obituary would be premature and I resolved to make a cup of tea and have a quiet five minutes.

As I hobbled into a comfy chair I started to think about the difference between sudden and overwhelming pain, and the sort of background anxiety and discomfort that comes from the times we are in today. It is the pain we feel when we cannot protect people we love, or work with people we care about, or live in the lives we hoped to build.

This quiet pain is not as sudden or as intense, but it comes with a silent and oppressive weight that pushes down on our very being. It is a tightening ligature and there is no place to scream and little comfort in a cup of tea.

These next weeks are not going to be easy, and it is not the time to paint a smile on sadness, or to rely on hope alone to see us through. Hope is indeed a fascinating, but possibly misunderstood sidekick to pain. We need it, and rely on it, and we give it lots of status; but hope by itself does not mend feelings or change anything.

The challenge for me at this time is to stay hopeful, but also to better understand why hope is not an answer on its own and yet is still profoundly important.

I am not, therefore, writing this as someone who wants to “Joe Wicks” you (or myself) out of melancholy and I do not have a swaggering metaphor to change your day. I am writing as someone coming to terms with what hope means for me in the context of my own discomfort and fears.

Being hopeful does not require me to paint a smile on my sadness or pretend that all is well; but I believe hope is real. Hope can help me find a way to live with my uncertainty and vulnerability, and to be open to the wisdom and insight these uncomfortable visitors may bring. For example, I am learning to accept that I will not get through this on my own. I know I need the care, affection and guidance of others. I know I must learn to ask for help and not feel unworthy of help. I need to accept kindness because that is how kindness thrives. And I need to be kind, because one kind act, by one kind act, is how we create a world that cares.

Above all I need to accept my responsibility to tread softly in a world of fragile but essential and wonderful interdependence.

Anxiety, pain and uncertainty do not attend alone. Hope will always be there too. The hope we can find in these days is not the antidote to our discomfort, but it is the key to unlocking kindness and courage in ourselves and in others. It means we are worthy of support and is permission for us to ask for help, as well as offering our help to others.

Let’s all take care. Paul xx