Sunday, 27 February 2011

Journeys of hope and opportunity, no matter the weather

Tomorrow is the last day of what meteorologists call winter here in the UK. I heard this snippet last night on the weather forecast and it occurred to me that we all take so much for granted, even something as apparently mundane as the weather forecast. Most of us wouldn’t give a second thought as to what lies behind those few minutes of daily weather news.

Stunningly, the UK Met Office (the people responsible for our weather forecasts), employ more than 1700 people, and the Met is ranked the world's most accurate forecaster, using more than 10 million weather observations a day, an advanced atmospheric model and state of the art technology to create 3000 tailored forecasts and weather briefings a day!

It was Robert Fitzroy who is credited with making weather forecasting a reality. Fitzroy was by all accounts a remarkable person. Most famous for being the Captain of the HMS Beagle, on its world voyage which served as the inspiration for the equally famous Charles Darwin and his defining work: 'On the origin of species'. Interestingly, Darwin originally was studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh, before being sent to the University of Cambridge to study a BA in theology in order to become a parson. That he met Fitzroy and accompanied him on voyage of discovery that lasted five years and as consequence, develop and publish so many challenging ideas, was pure serendipity.

Fitzroy, was also an accomplished author – publishing the 'Weather Book' in 1863. This book was said to be way in advance of the prevailing scientific opinion of the time. Rather more unsuccessfully, Fitzroy was also the second Governor for New Zealand (1843-1845).

And as we all now know, last Tuesday (22nd February) a massive earthquake hit the New Zealand South Island city of Christchurch killing some 146 people and causing massive damage to much of the city centre. As I write this blog some six days later, there are said to be still more than 220 people missing in Christchurch and the surrounding area. Thousands of other people have been affected. I have two children and four grandchildren living in New Zealand, thankfully they all live on the North Island and are fine.

The BBC’s use of a headline, ‘the people and city of Christchurch will recover’, made me think about the work of my colleague Julie Repper. A few years ago she wrote a thought provoking paper about discovery being the new recovery. For those of you who don’t know recovery is a concept used in mental health care that captures what Julie describes as the process of moving forward, of rebuilding a satisfying and meaningful life with mental health problems, of finding new meaning and purpose in one’s life. This process can become a personal journey of discovery.

Two qualities appear to be crucial in individuals being able to make this journey: hope and opportunity. Without hope (and this can be hope for all kinds of different futures) few of us would even begin the journey of discovery. Without opportunity (in particular to access the things we value and which give meaning to our lives) then the journey becomes futile.

As we think about the people of New Zealand facing what is perhaps their greatest natural disaster, embarking on what will be a long journey of discovery and recovery, we should also keep in mind that hope and opportunity are not qualities to be taken for granted if our own lives are to have purpose and meaning. Reminding ourselves of this occasionally is important, but sometimes difficult to do, as Antoine de Saint-Exupery noted: “on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.”