Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hope, Despair, and that Strange Place In-Between

People ask me, as I explain my passion, "What hope do you have to change things?" I tell them the truth. I have little. The problem is vast, the politicians are feckless, corporate interests are rich & entrenched. And the 100% predictable result has already happened.
Tromsø, Norway; 200 miles north of
the Arctic Circle (photo: Bo Eide*)
So. Hope? No. Not really.

Then why keep picking litter off the beach, writing stories, trying? Because there's a difference between losing hope and giving in to despair. Despair is paralysis. Despair is also extremely arrogant -- it presumes that we can know with certainty that our actions are useless. Despair is Denethor, throwing himself onto a pyre rather than face a future that to him can only be black & bleak.

I'd rather cast in my lot with Theoden, riding headlong into overwhelming odds because it's simply the right thing to do.

That sounds like bluster. But, in truth, it's the opposite. It's deep humility. For all that I think I know, and think I've learned, I don't know how the story ends. So I do what I do because I love my daughter and I think the world is beautiful and I want to preserve it. It's my path.

And there is a strange freedom & clarity that comes from leaving both hope & despair behind. It's re-energizing. "Hoping" puts the burden on someone else. "Doing" puts the burden -- the control -- in my own hands. So no, I can't change the world. But I can change my part of it. And no, I can't make it better forever. But I can make it better for today. This one moment when the beach is deserted and the gulls are crying and the surf is pounding and the breeze is carrying salt on the air... and the sand is clean.

And it just might stay clean long enough for the next lonely wanderer to look down. And notice.

Sometimes, the point isn't to do the right thing because you hope or think something awesome will come from it. It's because, it's the right thing. And because "even the wise cannot see all ends." As I've witnessed, the actions of one person have a funny way of reaching beyond them in ways & times most unexpected.

I have ideas, plans, contacts, and goals for 2012. I'm going to expand my work, meet new people, do what I can, and increase what I can do. Not because I have hope, but because I don't despair.

* For more images in and around Tromsø, please check out Bo Eide's fabulous blog: Life Up North; this image (saved originally from Facebook) comes from this post:


  1. The action of one is exponentially more powerful than the action of zero.

    Thank you for your action, for being active. Few things matter more. -Sea Waves-

  2. This a very inspiring and wonderful post. Great job and way to stay positive! :)

    On hope, I found this article the other day and thought it was really great. Totally relevant:

    Keep fighting the good fight! We're all in this together.

  3. waw, you put in words what is in my heart ... really special, thank you for making it better. You are not alone, never. Don't forget when you are picking litter I'm probably picking litter at the same time somewhere on the other side of the world...and with us so many many more... because we realise it's the right thing to do Eef xxx

  4. Excellently written.
    I am the photographer who took the picture at the top of this article. I too pick litter, and tell as many as I can about it, although not quite as eloquently.

    Do I have hope? Some days i do, some days I don't. I realise that solving the marine litter problem entirely might not be possible, but for every piece of litter I pick, some beach is a little less littered, for every picture I post, someone stops and says "This is too bad" and for every class I bring out to clean up a beach, at least some will litter less in the future. The collective litter picking action around the world is getting press and attention: National and international cleanup initiatives are getting numerous, and even if environmental issues is just part of the reason, plastic producers and have started initiatives towards secure handling and disposal practice Governments address the problem, and are starting to propose different avenues of action.

    And, even if all this was not happening, i would still pick litter. It is just plain satisfying to see a clean beach, and to be outside in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

    For more pics and stories on marine litter cleanups in Norway, please visit my blog:

    The piture above appears in this post:

    Bo Eide
    Tromsoe, Norway

  5. Thank you all for the comments! Ryan, wow that article is spookily relevant! And Bo, I've added your links directly into the article. Thrilled to read your blog and see the work that you're up to! My wife & I visited Tromsø back in July '04. Was an amazing experience. It's hard to look at the images of the trashed beaches and know that even the Arctic Circle isn't free of it. But I think you're right, every step is a good step. And there's more than enough reason to keep on going.

  6. Nicely said and I agree with your statement: "Doing" puts the burden-the control-in my own hands.

    It brought to mind Mike Anderson's slogan on his CleanUpTheRiver blog, "Anyone, on any given day, has the power to improve a place."

  7. When we help others as well as when we help the planet, we help ourselves. It appears politicans, governments, large businesses, are not going to solve our problems. Thankfully more people are taking steps to do the right thing individually and in small groups. Changing behaviors and a growing attitude of intolerance for littered trash and other planet killing issues is contagious. Tx for leading by example.

  8. This is very inspirational. For several years I picked up litter along a stretch of the Saco River near a busy access point… where 95% of the trash was carried in then thrown out. Talk about thankless. I kept at it until my life went through some changes.. then I stopped collecting.. and then stopped visiting altogether.
    I’ve lately come to realize that I am missing the connection to the river itself. When I was collecting, I would stop at a secluded spot to sit and watch the river flow.. and listen to the water running the rapids. And think.
    I believe I will get back to it this spring. Thanks for your efforts.

  9. Thank you all Al, Bernie, Robbie! Robbie, I know that connection well. It really can be amazing, just sitting and watching the water go by. Thanks for the time you spent picking up after others. Nice to think that folks who were enjoying "my" beach maybe had it a bit cleaner for the work that you did, pulling the junk away upstream.

  10. Hi Harry,

    Love your post. Says it all. It really does. I've had a glass or two of red wine so not at my most eloquent. Maybe 'quod erat demonstrandum' - Q.E.D. is a pretty good way to go through life. I have to admit I follow that philosophy. Sometimes I try to live up to my own philosophy (which is pretty high). Some days I do not make that. Each day I wake up trying. It is the least we can do for ourselves, the next generation and each generation after that. :-)

  11. Hopefully my Latin is OK. If not = blame it on the vino!

  12. Excellent Latin! And finally I have now looked that abbreviation up after many years of not knowing what it means. :) I'm with you. Fall short, get back up the next day and try again. It's worth it.