I used to have a safety net. It was just a feeling, but it was very real. And the funny thing is that I didn’t notice it was there until it disappeared.
It has gone now, but I remember it well. It was a sort of confidence in the universe, a sort of faith or certainty that everything would somehow work out alright in the end. Not very logical, I agree, but it was absolute and unwavering and always there. It didn’t really matter what I did or didn’t do in life, or whether things were tough at times, because eventually, when it really mattered, things would just work out. It would be ok in the end. There would be a balance of good luck to counteract the bad luck, happy times to outweigh the sad ones. And the general order of things would be maintained. The things that were supposed to happen would happen. My life milestones would be reached without any difficulty.
There was never any awareness of exactly how it would work out, just that it would.
For example, I always took it completely for granted that my life would turn out to have the same kind of shape as my parents’ life did, or my friends’, or the life of everyone else I saw around me, or the way novels, films and TV showed life to me. At some point in my twenties I would meet a man and we would fall in love with each other and then get married and then have several children. And, indeed, this is what has happened to almost everyone I know. Maybe not in their twenties – things have changed; but certainly at some point in their thirties. But it didn’t work out that way for me – not through lack of wanting it or trying to find it, or wishing or praying for it, or doing everything I could to achieve that outcome. And gradually my confidence that ‘things would just work out’ started to diminish. I knew by my late thirties that I was cutting it a little fine, but things would somehow work out ok, because they just had to. Any other outcome was inconceivable and I couldn’t allow myself to go there.
By my early forties I was really frightened because I couldn’t see how the universe was going to manage to work everything out in the way it had to be, but I still had some hope left that somehow, miraculously, it would.
But it didn’t.
Around the age of 44, I got real and my hope left me. And with it, this safety net, this feeling of the universe having my best interests at heart. A security blanket of reassurance to wrap around you when scary things happened. “It will be alright in the end”: I’ve woken up to the fact that this is the story I have been soothing myself with my whole life. It worked really well when I was a child, but I have learnt that it is a lie. Of course the universe doesn’t have my back – why should it? Terrible, unfair and undeserved things happen to good people all the time. I’m not special, so why should things miraculously work out the way I want them to? Sometimes, in low moments, I feel like the universe is actually trying to torture me (for unknown reasons), such as when I need a moment of peace and a heavily pregnant woman or someone with a newborn baby comes and sits down next to me on a train or in a café, or when someone at work asks me if I ever wanted children or why I don’t just adopt, or when my heart feels so broken that I’m surprised I am still alive.
But most of the time I realise that it is all completely random and that there is no reason why things didn’t work out the way I desperately wanted. It isn’t my fault, and it isn’t the fault of god or the universe. It is just that I had it wrong all along – and sometimes things just do not work out in the end. Sometimes things just are not ok and will never be ok. Sometimes our worst nightmares do come true. And we have to learn how to live without that treacherous safety net – it was never real anyway.
When my hopes of becoming a mother left me, all of my other hopes departed at the same time – it seems that they were all interconnected. When I ceased to believe that things would be ok, I found my eyes opened to a much clearer view of our shared future on this planet. I stopped believing that things would work out ok, in terms of humans waking up to the damage that we have caused to the climate and to our biodiversity. I had been hopeful for the previous couple of decades, and had been trying to change things in every way I could think of, knowing that somehow, eventually, we would all wake up and fix the problems we had caused on this planet, and that everything would be ok. But when I stopped kidding myself in one area, I couldn’t continue to delude myself in other areas. So all of my hope went. I now no longer feel any sense of denial that we are heading for very dark times – it seems impossible to avoid the future we have driven ourselves towards and I don’t believe that everything is going to work out ok in the end.
It makes the world a lot scarier, I can tell you. Living without hope or expectation is very hard and I don’t quite know how I’m doing it, but I can tell you that it is possible. Things like resilience, determination, integrity, and respect are what keep you going when you reach this place, instead of hope and faith. I no longer expect things to be ok in the future, even if the alternative is unimaginable. I do feel that hope is a kind of denial and is perhaps no longer helpful for us. Maybe the world needs more of us to live without that kind of denial, in these dark times. If we can bear to face head-on towards our likely future, then maybe we can mitigate some of the worst of it before it arrives. But if we continue to stick our fingers in our ears and lie to ourselves that ‘surely it’ll work out alright’, then I truly think we are in trouble.
Unlike the random chance of whether or not somebody will get to have children, there are actually things that can be done to change our future on this planet; we don’t have very much of a chance left, it is true, but we do know that if we continue not to act it will be much worse for us than if we start to act now. So I think we should act now, not in hope, but in determination to do the best we can in a terrible situation. We can grieve for what we know is lost and what we’ll lose in the future, while also working to preserve whatever we can of life on this planet. And we must do this hard work ourselves, because I don’t think the universe has our backs anymore.