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Shine a Light in the Darkness

My dad was truly the most optimistic person I’ve ever known. Not in a cheesy, Pollyanna way — as someone who was a kid during WW2, a history buff and a current events aficionado, he was keenly aware of all the problems in the world. It’s just that, despite the evils and darkness, he chose to see the light. 

He taught me to look at life’s bright sides; similar to the way Mr. Rogers’s mother told him to “look for the helpers” when tragedy struck and the world seemed scary, my dad had this incredible way of seeking out the positives — the lessons to be learned — in even the most harrowing situations. 

I inherited this rosy outlook from him. When I was on my high school cheerleading squad, I earned the superlative of “always smiling”. And later, when I worked my first job as a development assistant at one of New York City’s most prestigious biomedical research institutes, I was coined “cheeriest.” I wore these badges proudly. Though my dad was alive then, I was carrying on his torch. All I wanted was to be a bright, warm light in this world for others, the way he always was for everyone he met.  

But then something happened as I grew older. I adopted some… cynicism. It’s only natural after all. As we age, we become far more aware of everything around us; we break out of our childhood bubbles (if we were lucky enough to live in a nice, protective bubble) and our experiences and worldviews expand. We begin to form opinions of our own — not just the ones passed down to us from our parents. 

Between the time I graduated high school in 1998, moved to New York in 2002, and moved back to Minneapolis in 2009 where I married and had children, a lot has happened — both to me personally, my family, and in the world. I lost my cheerful, kind-souled father in 2007 suddenly to complications from surgery; that same year I suffered a brain bleed that could have easily taken my life; I’ve witnessed far too many people I know — really good people — battle cancer; I’ve struggled with postpartum mood and anxiety disorders during and after my pregnancies, and so much more. 

Since then, the world has felt darker too. I often wonder what my father would say about it all. If he would be able to maintain his optimism through some of the more horrific events and natural disasters that have occurred over the last 13 years since he’s been gone. I wonder if he might have any choice words to say about this current administration. 

I assume he would have found his way to remain hopeful — because that’s truly who he was. For him, there was meaning in everything; a purpose behind it all. He would often gaze out at the beautiful sunset bowing down over the lake and say, “Look at that wondrous beauty. The world is truly a miraculous and beautiful place.” Yet within that same breath, he could discuss the atrocities of the past and present, and challenge me to think about what we could learn from them, and how we could do better for the future. 

I’m sad to say, but I’ve lost so much of that hopeful, joyous optimism that my dad had and worked so hard to instill in me. I want desperately to see the bright sides, to know with an instinctual certainty that even though things are truly terrible right now, somehow, we’ll make it out of this… perhaps not unscathed, but much more resilient and capable. 

But right now, I look around and see despair, pain, suffering, violence and a throng of people seemingly so desperate and lost that they will blindly follow an overtly self-serving human with no moral compass or even an iota of empathy and compassion.   

How did we get here?

See, that’s the thing my dad would do right now. He would look back into history, and find the answers. He would always tell me that history is a cycle — it repeats itself, unless we learn from it and do something different to change the cycle

He often said that history was the most critical subject to learn — more important than even math or science — because history helps us understand human behavior; relationships and dynamics; religious beliefs; cultural differences and similarities, and so much more. He would say that understanding history was the only way to truly understand and relate to one another, to shift the cycle and instigate positive change, and thus make this world a more peaceful and loving place for everyone.  

And so, although I’ve fallen prey to feelings of negativity and hopelessness in recent years and months, it stops here. No more wallowing in angst and anger; no more feeling helpless about the future. I will remember my dad’s attitude and  mentality, and seek to understand what we can learn from the struggles we face today; how history has shaped the path that has led us here, and how we as humans have the incredible power to shift the present and write a far better, more just future. 

I will try to do my dad justice and carry the torch once again; to conjure his — and my own — optimism, to emanate hope, and shine a light in the darkness, just the way he would be doing today.

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