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What does hope look like? A blog written for the Lantern Initiative

The blog and poems are written by Paul Good, who was asked to write and read a poem for a service in the Cathedral for the 2022 UK Recovery Walk.

I had been asked to write and recite a poem for a service hosted by Newcastle Cathedral on the eve of the 2022 UK Recovery Walk. I know I can write, but believing in myself has been problematic for as long as I can remember. While I was put under no pressure at all from the organisers, the pressure I placed on myself was unbearable. Line after line, I would write and then quickly scribble out. I began to think that I wouldn’t be able to even write anything, never mind reading it out to a cathedral filled with people. I met up with Jon [the Revd Jon Canessa, Lantern Initiative Lead] for a coffee and explained that I was having difficulty finding the right words for the piece. After asking whether having a topic to focus on would help my efforts, he left me with three questions to ponder.

What does Hope look like?

What does Hope smell like?

What does Hope feel like?

After a false start or five, the first line wrote itself as I was trying to drift off to sleep. I finally had something I was happy with the night before the event and went to bed praying for a good night’s rest. I was grateful to be attending a conference at the college the next day. It did a fantastic job of keeping my mind occupied and stopped me from panicking over the evening event. By the end of the conference, I could feel the nerves and anticipation building. My stomach twisting into knots; my palms beginning to sweat. I prayed again, for the courage and the strength to make it through the evening without backing out and running away. I’ve spent most of my life doing that. A few friends from the conference were going for a meal before tonight’s service. I had my distraction to fill the time. When we arrived at the Cathedral, I made my way to the front to see about the running order. My heart sank; second to last. My instinct, as with all crowded events, was to hide in the back until my time came. This wasn’t to be as I was directed to the three rows of seats at the front with ‘reserved’ signs on them. Once again, I asked for courage and strength.  

As the service began, I tried my best to take everything in and enjoy the evening. After the introductions, the first presentation was someone reciting his own self-written poem. I listened intently as he began spitting lyrics like Eminem. He was phenomenal. I sat in disbelief, wondering how on earth I was supposed to follow that performance. I took solace from the fact that we have such very different styles, and they can’t really be compared. I dared to take a look behind me and caught a glimpse of just how many people had come to the event. I try and push that thought from my mind and compose myself. The choir begins to sing, which helps to calm my nerves. Even moreso when they make it interactive and ask the crowd to join in the singing. I gladly join in, singing as loud as my voice will allow, and I feel so much more at ease.

At the halfway point in the service, we are invited to place a padlock around one of the pillars for those locked into their addiction and to light a candle for those we love who are no longer alive. I think about friends I have lost and those that have lost their way as I light my candle. As the service resumes, I feel a lot calmer and more composed. One more speaker then it’s my turn. Jon gives me a glowing introduction, and I step up to the lectern. Shaking, perspiring and trying to avoid all eye contact. I begin my reading.

What is Hope?

I’ve been to that place,

where all hope seems lost.

On a path of destruction,

No matter the cost.

No family, no friends,

And no sense of self.

No morals, no pride,

Diminishing Health.

If you’re in that place,

And feel all alone.

Take comfort and know,

That hope can be grown.

Just one little glimmer,

Is all that it takes.

To find your own dreams,

And love that hope makes.

The love of another,

That’s given so freely.

Compassion and care,

That you’ve missed so dearly.

The warmth of the sun,

Beating down on your face.

The moon and the stars,

Fill the blanket of space.

The smell of a snowfall,

The taste of the rain.

If it makes you smile,

It can ease your pain.

For too long now,

You’ve only survived.

It’s time that you found,

What makes you feel alive.

You are worth it.

You are loved.

And you are not alone.

Halfway through the reading, I realise that I haven’t looked up from the words on my phone. I try and lift my eyes, to look out at the faces gathered in front of me. To let them see me as I bare my soul. I only manage a second or two before I have to look back down. Panic hits me all over again as I try and find my place on the page. I read the first word and realise that’s from the line I’d just read. Finding the right place, I continue. After reaching the end I made my way back to my seat as quickly as I could. I could see people clapping, but I couldn’t hear a thing. All sound was gone until I got back to my seat and felt an overwhelming sense of relief. I had done it. As much as I was preoccupied throughout the service it was such a beautiful evening, and I was so grateful to be given the opportunity to share a piece of my writing. I even allowed myself to feel a sense of achievement for not running away when I was so full of fear.

A couple of weeks later, I attended an online meeting with the discussion topic “Which wolf will win?”. I didn’t have any idea what that even meant when we first started.  I didn’t have much of a clue by the end, to be honest, but I woke up the next morning and wrote another poem.

Which Wolf Will Win?

If I split myself in two,

And give each half a name.

We’ll call one Tim and call one Tom,

And know they’re not the same.

See, Tom is almost fully grown,

He knows how to survive.

Negative habits, emotions and actions,

On these, my Tom does thrive.

While Tim is merely just a pup,

He needs a lot of care.

Feed him love, compassion, joy,

His strength will come to bear.

Both parts of me are worlds apart,

In size and strength, and needs.

If I don’t nurture my good pup,

Then on Tim, Tom just feeds.

Call it a coincidence, but this was the same morning that I was meeting Jon for a coffee and a catch-up. I showed him the poem, and he asked me which one I was on the night of the service. I did give an answer, but not one I was happy with. Tim may have been centre stage, but I don’t think he had the strength to get me there. On reflection, I don’t believe one can survive without the other. Continuing to strengthen Tim will help me regain balance in all things.