Harry Smith

Things are Hard

These are hard times and they are only getting harder. When freedom becomes perilous we have a duty to practice it.

Things are hard.

I’ve had a strange sort of writers block recently. Its not that I haven’t had the motivation to write, nor the neccesary ideas and inspiration. I’ve been beset by an awareness that there is a naivety to the topics that I broach during times like these. It hasn’t felt right to add my noise to a world where shelling replaces birdsong. What use are my mundane thoughts on my mundane, everyday challenges. Who has time for creativity and craft, writing and thinking, hobbies and practice or prose and philosophy now?

Such is the magnitude of events that it has brought me to an almost paralysis. I can not walk the streets without wondering how the buildings would look during the nuclear inferno. I sit to read and find myself browsing post apoclyptic survival pamphlets. Blowing the cold war dust off literature we thought we had left behind. My usual energy and zest for life sapped by the crushing anxiety of an uncertain future.

We had been lead into a false confidence that we were somehow in control of the rollercoaster ride. Our first awakening should have been the pandemic. Though its protracted, chronic nature had let the terrible reality go unnoticed. The invasion of Ukraine is much more acute. It leaves us white knuckled and screaming, plunging into a future that our instutions were powerless to prevent. I have seen past the illusory cloak of peace, and the void beyond has left me shaking with fear.

Things are hard, and they are only getting harder.

Supply chains. Food supply. Energy crises. War. Pandemics. Burn out. Inflation. Collapsing high streets. Fake news. It’s been easy in the past to dismiss the doomsday prophets as a crank. A crank they may still be, but now we linger on their mad hat suggestions a little longer. How much water do I have at home? Could I grow a crop if I had too? Am I standing in the way of a slow moving train crash, too naive to act? How do you move to South America anyway?

I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

- Gandalf, The Lord of the Rings

It’s not long before the wheels are off the runners again. I’m freefalling through anxiety and straight down to despair. I find my usual emotional parachutes lacking. Tattered with the test of hardships they were never designed to withstand. We’re charting a course that history has repeated many times, but is new all the same to us. Maybe this is the way it will always be. When the living memory of atrocities fades the cycle will begin again. It is a depressing thought. Are my goals and dreams destine to be felled by the forces behind the veil? What guilt has racked me from such petty worries. My qualm is hypothetical, though for Ukraine is all too real already.

Out of desperation more than hope I turned to the one task that no matter how sour my mood turns I knew I can complete. Each morning I sit in solitude, a solitary page of a journal acting as a mirror for my thoughts. The usually flowing sentences came in stattaco bursts, with long pauses for thought. It wasn’t as easy as it had once been. Thing were hard, and it was seeping into everything.

Getting to the end of that short page wasn’t triumphant, but it was defiant. It felt naive to connect the this simple ritual to the defiance of the defenders of Ukraine. Naive as it may have been I realised that thought my act small, it is the many millions of small acts that turn the course from evil to good. My page wasn’t going to win any wars. But it perpetuates our freedom through its dogged application.

Things are hard but they will make us stronger.

I am blessed to still retain the freedoms that millions around the world have lost. And in the face of it all, turning away from the uncertainty, the pain, the sadness of the present and the future, is to respect those less fortunate than us. As each day passes, and another page fills with my chicken scratch prose, my certainty grows. To carry on regardless isn’t a diservice to the severity of the events of our time. It is too honour them. To appreciate all that we have while we still are lucky enough to have it.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

- Viktor Frankl, Holocaust Survivor

We owe it to all those that suffered in the past, and all those suffering now, who give what we can not so that we may enjoy what they do not have. We owe it to them to face down our own hardships with bravery and courage. To enjoy the lustre and richness of our lives. To not waste the gifts that we have become far too accustom too. I asked who has time for creativity and craft in times like these? We do. We do when so many do not. And we squander it.

The test of hard times can be a blessing. A man can not know his constitution without them. When disaster strikes there are men that step forwards into oblivion. Churchill. Eisenhower. Martin Luther King Jr. Mandela. Zelenskyy. The fires are the crucible which forge heroes. It brings out the worst in humanity, but also its greatest.

Us mere mortals are not crawling hands and knees through thick forest towards an uncountable enemy. As brave men did in Ardennes. As they do now in the forests of Kyiv. This stoic reflection has snapped me out of many a malaise in recent days. I wander streets with new eyes. Aware of the fragility of it all but not saddened by it. Instead I am filled with gratitude, and then with empathy.

Things are hard. And that’s okay. It’s okay that you’re scared. It’s okay that you’re anxious. It’s okay to keep going.

To keep reading,
To keep learning,
To keep laughing,
To keep singing,
To keep drawing,
To keep listening,
To keep creating,
To keep smiling.

If we stand at the end of the long peace, and the last heat of its summer is on our back, then we owe it to all that came before to relish in its gifts. Because if we do so, we might just manage to save it.

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