The good thing about living in the countryside is I can climb a hill any day I choose. Today was one of those days. It wasn’t raining, I could see blue breaks in the sky, it wasn’t cold either; the perfect day for stomping about in nature.
I set out to march up the hill behind our house, sunglasses perched on my head, ever the optimist.
No sooner had I crossed the stile, from the field full of newly sheared sheep, into the trees, than I caught a glimpse of something moving in the undergrowth. I often walk in the hills or the woods on my own, so I wasn’t worried, more curious.
I stopped and peered in. An older man in a hat, a buttoned up waterproof jacket and gloves grinned at me from beneath the brim. He had a plastic bag in his hand and was holding a fat green berry.
‘Are you picking?’ I asked
‘Yes, gooseberries. There’s plenty here at this time of year.’
And so started a long conversation about what else grew on the hillside, raspberries and cherries, but also about his life, his work with a well known oil company, eventually comparing notes on countries we’d both worked in.
‘You know,’ he started, ‘all around the world, the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’s’, seems to be increasing.’
My face fell. Were we really going to talk politics, especially with the fragile situation here in the UK at the moment? He saw the look on my face and quickly continued, ‘Of course when I say those who have and have not, I don’t mean money. I mean aspiration. You know, hope and ambition. You just have to look around. Some people go through life with no idea of where they’re going and what they really want to do.’
‘I know what you mean.’ I agreed.
His comment brought memories flooding back of conversations I’d had with various teenagers who’d trooped through our house over the years.
Youths congregating in bedrooms, or round the kitchen table gave me the chance to speak with lots of bright young things.
My sons often frowned at my favourite question. ‘What do you plan to do when you leave school/university/this job?’
‘I’ve got an internship lined up.’
‘I’m going abroad to teach English.’
‘I’ve enrolled on a language course to help with my studies.’
The ‘haves’ told me exactly what they were going to do. They had a laser-like focus on where they were going and definite plans of how to get there. I felt inspired by their plans and dreams.
‘I don’t know.’
‘Maybe travel for a bit.’
‘Haven’t decided yet. Depends what comes up.’
The ‘have not’s hadn’t thought about what they wanted for themselves, let alone conjured up a vision of it or planned how to get there. They drifted aimlessly, letting life buffet them around.
The man picking gooseberries brought all this back to me. His comment got me thinking.
When it comes to aspiration, how do we close the gap between the ‘haves and have not’s’? What can we do to help the ‘have not’s’?
‘See you in a months time when the raspberries are ready? Up the hill?’ he interrupted my thoughts.
‘Yes, I’ll be there.’ I waved as I walked on.