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The Hope Tree

Many of us had to spend the first weeks of this lockdown taunted by perfect waves, from our own home shores of Cornwall to the mainland of Europe. But imagine if those waves were 20ft tall, glassy and only break on fleetingly rare occasions.

That's the position that long-time friend, poet and big wave surfer Dougal Paterson found himself in. Below is his message of hope and a snap of an uncharacteristically empty line up at his local big wave break.

An empty lineup at Dungeons in South Africa during the Coronavirus lockdown

This morning I made up a reason to go and buy a bag of charcoal briquettes and two small tins of canned beef.

The firewood and canned beef was a decoy for my real motivation, to shoot an empty lineup shot of the giant swell that is pounding our outer reefs. Long plumes of icing sugar were being thrown high into the cobalt morning sky as I headed out on my bogus mission. Pulling over on the side of the road, I climbed onto the roof of my truck to photograph the empty waves. Unbeknownst to me, at that very moment a concerned resident was already putting in a call that would send out security personnel to intercept me.

We have planted a little Frangipani tree in our garden.

The tree is a cutting from a larger, older one that we planted 15 years ago during another time of uncertainty. We called it “the dream tree.” Today that tree has become a picture for the life we’ve lived these past years. A life filled with the fruit of things we could only dream of back then. We’ve named our new Frangipani tree, “the hope tree.”

“Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr Baggins, and I am fond of you, but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all.” [Gandalf the Grey in The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien]

Our present situation is dire indeed and the statistics that are trying to predict what might happen next, are truly, deeply terrifying. And yet, I can’t help but feel a sense of wonder. Presently, we find ourselves profoundly connected to a global community.

We are connected through our cell phones by a fear common to us all. C-19 is new, but the fear virus is an enemy as old as humanity itself. The reason for our global connection might presently be a bad one, but I see potential for great good to come from it. All we have to do is to take what was intended for our harm, and turn it into something that can be used for immeasurable good.

There is already a cure for the fear virus, a cure that is also as old as humanity.

The cure is hope.

To quote the Narnia series writer, C.S Lewis, “If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things — praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts — not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

If the past is the best predictor of the future, then in times of hardship, we will always be able to find comfort and joy by doing good to others. There is great satisfaction to be found in honest, hard work, so whatever you set your hand to doing, do it well. We should apply ourselves by raising wholesome families, by forgiving those who have done us harm, by speaking the truth in love and by keeping our promises.

I find myself incapable of feeling hopeless at this time. Putting my surfboards and jetski aside seem but a small sacrifice to have made.

But, lest you find yourself questioning the validity of your desire to surf, let me say this in closing.

Surfing is a good thing (possibly even one of the best things.) It is a noble pursuit, an honest quest. The sensation of standing on a surfboard and guiding it down a wave, is worth looking forward to.

My desire, is that when we look back on these dark days, we are satisfied that we responded with hope, kindness and integrity.

May your hope tree grow so large that it gives shade and fruit to many, as they recover from the fear virus.

The Hope tree - Image by Dougal Paterson

Words and Images by Dougal Paterson

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