Hope, for John Roden

From the life of John Roden

By Samuel Hardy

Hope: a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen.
: John’s granddaughter’s name.

***

The East End. The sixties. A small boy can walk around his street in Shoreditch and be assured that his neighbors will watch out for him, that the postman on his daily route will lead him back when he’s too far from home. The children run around and jump and laugh and play until night comes and they’re called in. Families can chat with friends and move around with unlocked doors because the people around them are trusted. They come together, a community ready to help one another in times of trouble or hardship or simply because one can, and a small boy is filled with pride for this small slice of earth he lives on without needing to truly grasp the reasons why.

In this moment, it just is.

On his trips to the market, he stands and watches a man at the stall, waiting for his mother to get what she needs and come back. There’s no need for her to rush in a panic, fearing that her child will disappear once her back is turned. He is calm and the man at the stall is fascinating, working in a section of the city that the same people frequent regularly. They know one another. Children know to stay still and wait. Parents know to leave when fights break out. In this section of the city, their community watches out for one another, keeping fear away. The children are ushered away in school; whispers of the Kray twins outside are being denied by teachers, but the police have come to ensure that they stay away from the gates. Still they believe that their shelter remains intact.

Until, at sixteen, he comes close to death. A friend is ill, they say, and he’s being cared for in the hospice not too far away.

When they go in there, John, they don’t come back out.

His shelter is shattered. It comes between the age of boy and man, when his time of school and being guided is over and he must make it on his own. But he is still young and the loss of a friend breaks apart the feeling of security that came with his home. Priorities are shifting, people more out for themselves than for helping each other, and slowly snipping away their assurance that their neighbors are looking out for them. A friend is in a hospice; no one talks about it. Disability and illness are hushed words and a hospice is a place to die; they’re cast aside, kept away from chatter in the street.

He goes on with his life; working across London, settling down with his wife, and watching the East End he grew up in grow and change into something he no longer recognizes. But he is the generation that cannot talk about difficulties above a whisper, if they can’t avoid it at all, and he has no need to change that.

Until, at fifty-six, his granddaughter is born and those difficult words become a part of his life.

It’s a metabolic disease, detected earlier than doctors usually do. She is beautiful, always smiling, and in need of help and care. He becomes her guardian, is thrown back into a world of nappy changes and scheduled feeds and caring for an infant. It’s a brand new experience; once a working father, now a retired grandfather, he has the time to care for his baby girl and relearn what it means to be a parent. But there are still treatments to look at, help to turn to, a place that can be there for them.

Richard House Children’s Hospice.

When they go in there, John, they don’t come back out.

That can’t be true…

He remembers, a long time ago, the friend who was sent to a hospice to be cared for until he died. He remembers the whispers people had about death, their need to stay away from the topics of disability and illness. He remembers his generation, who still stay away when his granddaughter is near. But Richard House does not conform to the stories of isolation and death that people had heard about hospices, and now their lack of understanding has become fuel to fight the stigma. The hospice staff, who look after the rest of the family as well as the children, are warm and supportive. He brings his granddaughter in for her treatments and he takes her home, he sits with other men on ‘Dad’s Night’ and they share their struggles in a setting that allows them to end the night a little lighter than before, with people who understand. Years of ideas and harsh words have been reevaluated, his perspective of a once daunting place changed to accommodate the reality he faces every day.

Life is a learning curve; it never stops.

The East End. Now. A small boy is now a grown man, with a wife, two children, and a grandchild of his own. He cannot walk around his street and be assured that his neighbors will truly watch out for him and doors are locked tight wherever the neighbors go. His sense of community has faded and, once or twice, the pride that once just was is turned to shame when he remembers how things used to be.

But he has Hope.

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