This is one of those books that came at the right time – it seems as though it was given to me. And indeed this book is a great gift to the human race, and now more necessary then ever, more than two decades since its publication.
It is not difficult to find reasons for despair. Just turn on the news for a minute or two and you will soon be plunged into a deep depression, or you will so numb yourself to the pain that you can no longer feel the joy of love, of friendship, or blue skies, or sailboats on the sea in the early morning.
In a world where we are so often encouraged to despair, it takes courage to go against the current and choose hope. It takes courage to say, as Jane Goodall does at the end of each of her lectures, “Together we can, together we will!”
Jane Goodall has become something of a personal hero to me. I am grateful that she has been given to us. What is so encouraging about this book is not so much what she says as it is who she is, and how her person comes through in each page of this book. She has sought, in her life, to embody that great theological virtue given to us by St Paul: hope.
I found it so encouraging to learn of her many, many struggles as she tried to chart her way forward in this life. It is so encouraging to know that she, like me, for many long periods has not been certain of her path in life. It was not until she was 26 that she was finally able to fulfil her dream of going to Africa. It was not until she was in her late forties, I believe, that she discovered her important mission of advocating for the dignity of chimpanzee life – and indeed, all natural life.
Over this past year I have been tormented by the ghosts of the Second World War. How is it possible that human beings, with souls, hearts and minds, could so dehumanise their brothers and sisters to see them as “not human”? It is heartbreaking. How is it possible that despite the many devastating events of the twentieth century, we so often fall back into our old ways, treating others with cruelty and not seeing the human face in the other person?
These are questions that do not admit easy answers. Perhaps the only answer one can give to such questions is to lead a life that so affirms the beauty and majesty of human life – and indeed all life – as to become an answer in itself. To become a living embodiment of those great virtues which Christ embodied and St Paul put into words: Faith, Hope and Love. “But the greatest of these is love.”
While Jane, as I will now call her, on account of the deep connection I felt with her throughout reading this book, talks about hope a great deal, what inspires me more about her is how she embodies and practices that other virtue, that greatest of the virtues. And she does this without saying it – without saying the word. That four-letter word that is the great mystery at the heart of the cosmos. As soon as we say it, it loses its power. It can only be a hidden driving force, nestled deep within the human heart, driving us on as we go through life, manifesting itself through our silent deeds and our gentle words.
Jane gives me hope, and that is what we all need at this difficult time in human history. We need to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We need to believe in our goodness and the goodness of our neighbour – or more than that, in our worth, in our dignity.
Jane makes an important point towards the end of the book, and I would like to end this review with it. She says that the way we relate with other life – human or otherwise – changes the kind of person that we are. When we treat the other with cruelty, we distort ourselves, thereby not only dehumanising the other but also dehumanising ourselves. It is important that we notice the image of the Creator in the person, or animal, or plant in front of us, and therefore treat him, her or it with dignity. We must apologise when we fail to do this. And this goes not only for others, but also for ourselves. We must apologise when we fail to act with dignity towards ourselves. Only kindness, only mercy, only forgiveness can heal the many wounds that have so deeply scarred our world. And in Jane we have a good example.
Thank you for reading this humble review and best wishes to you.