A World Transformed by Hope

The people of this island rarely look at the future with wild optimism and the prospect of more months of wintry austerity could make the heartiest soul shiver.
Like drivers scraping the windscreen ahead of a long journey on snow-showered roads, our instinct is to approach the future with more caution than excitement.

But if we take 20 steps backwards and look at the moment in which we are alive we can feel grateful to exist in extraordinary times.

Yes, we have worries about the economy and politicians of all major parties face the challenge of a lifetime in trying to provide services with shrinking resources in different parts of the United Kingdom.

But nobody expects that tomorrow a German land mine will strike Cardiff’s Llandaff Cathedral and reduce it to ruin.

Yet on January 2, 1941, this ancient seat of Welsh Christendom was devastated. The city is home to many people who remember the terror of this time and the challenge of rebuilding amid the rubble.

The great triumph of their generation is that they did not just rebuild the city and its cathedral but they created a Europe in which inter-country war is now almost as unthinkable as a Martian invasion.

Yes, the international picture sometimes looks as if it was drawn by Goya after a night of nightmares. The threat of religious terrorism is grotesque. Countries which earlier generations longed to visit when they read copies of National Geographic now seem home to foes whose antagonism we strain to understand.

But before we allow ourselves to fall into apocalyptic angst, we should remember that all of us born before 1989 lived with the thermonuclear equivalent of a loaded shotgun pressed to our temples. The world tripped towards oblivion but human beings composed of the same patchwork of longings, fears, loves and neuroses as ourselves stepped back from annihilation and then tore down the Berlin Wall.

A generation ago, Latin America was defined by murderous tyranny and Southeast Asia seemed locked in a stand-off between dictators and Communist totalitarians. Now, peace and prosperity are remaking these continents.

People from across the globe who marvelled at the near-miracle of a democratic South Africa when they witnessed last year’s World Cup will be astonished by the vitality of Brazil when it hosts the tournament in 2014.

We could do worse than to slip into Llandaff Cathedral in our search for New Year hope. The Sir Jacob Epstein figure of Christ in Majesty is now suspended above a bold concrete arch that stuns us awake in the ancient church.

Hope inspired people in a rubble-strewn city to build something audacious and astonishing. We can do it again.

A Saturday column