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Peter Stockland: A shadow of hope emerges in crisis

By 
  • May 16, 2020

On the doorstep of what would become the COVID-19 crisis of spring 2020, a wise woman I encountered called me out on the distinction between hope and expectation.

I had been explaining to her that I was losing hope, and gaining frustration, for a positive outcome to a particular project in which I’d invested significant time and energy. She deftly pointed out that I was using the wrong word.

“You’re saying ‘hope’ but you mean expectation,” she said. “Hope endures. Expectation is when we want to bend the world to our will regardless of reality.”

Mothers embody hope. Gamblers live on the card turn of expectation.   

More than a mere semantic fine point, discernment between the two has been a kind of saving grace calibration device in the weeks upon weeks of the pandemic’s mirror-image melee. Since mid-March, we have been isolated in our homes where we cannot escape the deluge of death and despair crashing down on us in an information tsunami about COVID-19.

Expectation convinces us, like gamblers sure we’re about to hit the jackpot, that it will all soon make sense and the good old world we want back will return with three cherries on top. Hope tells us the world will endure and, far more importantly, the enduring things of the world will endure, albeit perhaps cast in light that makes us stop, reflect, perceive them as something entirely renewed.

A May 10 Catholic Register editorial evoked the spirit when it recalled that “Canada’s history, stretching back to 17th-century New France, is filled with examples of Catholic leadership in providing health care and social services, of demonstrating compassion.” The specific focus of the editorial was the COVID pandemic has awakened us to the deplorable conditions in which many elderly Canadians live out their last years as care home residents. But its broader call was for a renewal of a sense of “moral obligation” to protect those who need society’s help the most.

I would further argue our engagement in re-cultivation of that moral obligation justifies hope in this becoming a new Christian moment in Canadian, even North American, life. By Christian moment, I do not mean an expectation we can proselytize and convert the unwashed millions by barking at them through megaphones on street corners. I don’t mean even the winsome strategy of inviting them to the church bazaar next Christmas on the gamble that the Holy Spirit will light up their heart. I mean the moment when the fragilities of life re-revealed by COVID-19, and the frustrating futilities of the expectation that we could predictably contain it with perfect control, opens the hearts and minds of our loved ones, our friends, our neighbours to the hope that stands always alongside faith.

A neighbour and friend of mine, Dr. Paul Saba, put this concretely in an upcoming book I gave him some help editing last year. The book is titled simply Made to Live. Saba’s thesis is that since life is given to us as a gift of creation, we cannot, and must not, abort it at its beginning or end just because it fails to meet our every expectation. The argument comes from his deep Christian faith but also from pragmatism honed by decades of experience as a family physician.

“We need to value every life because every life is valuable,” he told me recently. “Once you start putting a measuring tape against life, no one’s ever going to be tall enough.”

Saba has been on the frontlines of the fight against medical assistance in dying (MAiD), but also mask-to-mask in the battle for those afflicted by the pandemic. The two efforts melded recently when a young patient of his became so depressed about the COVID crisis that she was considering suicide and was upset that MAiD wasn’t available to her.

“Many people find something like that too painful to even think about. But if they stop and think about it, they begin to see why every life is valuable. We can show them that’s true.”

COVID-19 opening a door to hope. Who’d have expected that?

(Stockland is publisher of Convivium.ca and senior fellow with Cardus.)

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