Back in the late 90s, before I went off to study, I passed my granddad one afternoon on my way home from town. He was sitting with Skipper his Jack-Russell terrier on a bench in the park. He had been to see the doctor, and he was having a rest before he made his way to the bank. He had a savings account to which he made a weekly deposit from his pension. Like many Kilmarnock folk of his generation he had grown up in the sort of poverty that lacked boot leather, and after a lifetime of hard work he knew the value of money – savings for ‘rainy days’ he knew we could never understand.
Years later, as I pieced together those last months of his life, it became clear that that day; that visit to his GP, was likely (or close enough to) the time he was told he was dying. He was a man who liked a drink and smoked forty a day, and he knew that cancer would put an end to the things he enjoyed – to his wee freedoms. It was less than a week before he died, when he was seriously sick in Crosshouse Hospital, that the family were informed of the true nature of his condition. He never told a soul.
Is there another world for this frail dust
To warm with life and be itself again?
Something about me daily speaks there must,
And why should instinct nourish hopes in vain?
The Instinct of Hope – John Clare
Yet there he was on that autumnal afternoon, dying and on the way to put money in the bank. I have never been able understand why he never told me, and I have never quite understood why he continued to lodge money to his savings account right up until the end. He was a penny-pinching auld miser at the best of times, but there was something different about his savings. This was his defence – as much psychological as anything else – against the horrors of his childhood memories. That was his despair, and this few pound was his hope.
Now I catch myself wondering about our little rituals of hope; those routine things that we do to invest in the future and safeguard us from the past or our nightmares. Waiting on Dublin Bus is an act of hope, and so too is our resistance to another expansion of this war. All the world is at war, and it has been for decades – lurching from one bloodbath to the next. Still we trot out with our peacenik slogans as we always have done in the past. We roar and shout for justice for the refugees and those who’re victims of austerity at home. Yet there is a sad inevitability to what will come next. We’ll go to war. Nature has played a cruel trick on us by the gift of hope. It’s money in the bank, you see! Sometimes hope is in the doing of the things we always do in the hope that next time it will be different.