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Father finds hope in the dark

January 29, 2021

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, January 29, 2021

Friday evening finally arrived. I closed my computer and stepped out of our basement office, eager for a run. During this weekly ritual my mind notes achievements, mulls missed opportunities and files unfinished business for Monday, leaving me relaxed and ready to enjoy the weekend.

Just a week before, with a strained calf muscle nagging me, I had missed my run and entered the three-day weekend feeling physically and emotionally drained by a litany of forces. Too many Zoom calls had left my brain taxed. A robocall brought disappointment, announcing another delay for our middle schoolers, Adam and Zoe, to return to in-person classes. The recent political violence at the U.S. Capitol, and anticipation of more to come, was anxiety provoking. Continued rise of COVID infections and deaths was beyond disheartening. It was more than I wanted to confront, but not something I could easily dismiss. Darkness prevailed that weekend.

But by Tuesday my mind, body and spirit had been partially restored by a few slow days, minimal screen time, family connection, an inspiring movie (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), and a nap or two. It was also the day before the Presidential Inauguration, and the mere anticipation further lifted my spirits. 

The next day, as our family circled around a live-stream of the ceremony, emotion unexpectedly swelled in me, as we witnessed the historical quadrennial event. With daughter Zoe (who will be eligible to vote in the next Presidential election) at our side, watching Kamala Harris becoming the first female U.S. Vice President offered a moment of shared hope. The poised and moving delivery of ‘The Hill We Climb’ by poet Amanda Gorman, laid bare our nation’s collective pain and the healing opportunities within our grasp.

President Biden (who just the prior evening led a moving memorial honoring the 400,000 Americans, and their loved ones, who have died from COVID) offered refreshing words and sentiments of truth, humility and compassion. As tears streamed down my cheeks, I heard evidence of a man who has grieved deeply and openly and who has through times of great personal and public hardship developed a vast reservoir of fortitude and strength.

And while I will not fully agree with all the policies of our new president, Congressional paralysis and dysfunction will surely persist, millions of Americans are mourning the end of the Trump presidency, the pandemic is far from over, the economy is still hemorrhaging, and much racial healing is needed, my heartfelt sense is that President Biden will lead by way of a moral compass and purpose, not Twitter adulation. And, that’s a great start!

So, as I stepped out the door for my Friday run, buoyed by post-inauguration hope, my body quickly warmed in the winter air, arms and legs fluid in form, heart and lungs oxygenating my muscles. I noticed that despite the late hour, daylight was not fully extinguished, a welcome reminder of Spring’s certain return. My mind processed the events of recent days, recognizing that only a week ago I was feeling not just overwhelm, but worse – a greatly diminished sense of hope. The persistent and elevated state of stress and uncertainty of 2020 had accumulated, clouding my vision from the goodness that can be found each day. 

That Friday, I ran farther than usual, not wanting the experience to end. On the return leg of my out-and-back route, on a trail threading through naked hardwood trees, I was momentarily mystified by a mysterious light in the sky. Smiling to myself, I realized it was the waxing moon, burning brightly through the gray, clouded sky, casting light on the path that lay ahead. 

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website

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