I love words. I love how certain words make me feel. I love how they can be strung together to create stories and images. I love how certain words remind me of special people in my life and how they make me feel.
My takeaway from Wednesday’s presidential inauguration was this: Words matter. Tone matters. Temperament matters. Excellence shines. Manners never go out of style. Hope is there even when you can’t see it. And, no matter how old you are, a beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace” can bring you to tears.
It’s worth pausing to realize that history isn’t just stuffed in old books. It’s unfolding before our very eyes. It’s revealing itself in real time and in real ways. Thank God I’m alive because I’ve felt so lost the last few years and now I feel like I’m found. That’s how I felt Thursday morning after America began her new chapter.
When Joe Biden put his hand on the Bible, I wept. I kept crying throughout the day. When he told me that he was going to put his whole heart and soul into this job, I believed him 100 percent. When he asked every American to join him and put our souls into uniting our nation alongside him, I said out loud, “I’m in!”
Putting one's full heart and soul into something, now that’s an ask. Giving someone a chance—even if you didn’t vote for them and even if you don’t agree with them—now that’s an ask.
The invitation to put my soul 100 percent into something came at just the right moment. I’ve always seen myself as the kind of person who puts my heart and soul into whatever is before me. It's something that has always made me feel alive and given me purpose, identity, and meaning. I’ve given my all to my mothering, my family, my work, and my service.
But as I wrote at the beginning of this year, sometimes you come to a place in life where the roles you’ve put your heart and soul into change. Sometimes they shift. Sometimes your work is complete. When that happens, you may find yourself for the first time in your life without your soul purpose.
At the start of this week, a friend said to me: “Maria now that your kids are grown and out of the house, you have a blank canvas in front of you. Where are you placing your hope?”
I was stopped cold by this question. I’ve always been good at putting my hope into my external identity. I’ve put my hope into others, including those I've worked with and mentored. I’ve put my hope into my parents, my kids, my state, and my Alzheimer’s advocacy. I've put my hope into my future vision for myself, as well as into my kids' futures. Now, I sit back and watch with awe as I witness my children check off their goals and lead their lives as full-grown, mature adults.
This past year, though, I realized that putting my hope into everything externally was one way of bypassing the present. It was a way to distract myself from what is. COVID altered all of our lives in different ways. The pandemic, combined with what was happening in our country and in my own life, brought me to a screeching halt. I came to hate the news, something to which I had devoted my whole life. Washington D.C., where I lived for much of my life, became unrecognizable to me. The language coming out of D.C. scared me, angered me, and bewildered me.
People I thought I knew changed in unexplainable ways, the bedrocks of my life slowly slipped away. My Sunday church service was canceled. My job at NBC was put on hold. My office in LA moved to Zoom. My events for The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement got canceled. And so on. I know so many Americans lost so much more over the past year, and that the change, upheaval, and grief have been overwhelming for us all.
That's why when the new year rolled around, I have to admit that I wasn't surprised that hope wasn’t springing eternal. Everyone I spoke with was either angry, anxious, mad, worried, broke, hopeless, or lonely (really, really lonely). I've got to admit: I was feeling many of those things myself.
And then Wednesday morning came along. I heard words that made me feel hopeful. I heard words that made me weep. I heard words that depicted the country the way I saw it. I saw people who looked hopeful. I saw blended families. I saw different races sitting side by side. I saw a young woman read poetry that moved my soul. And, I saw a kind man finish first.
As our new president said: “Here is the thing about life: There is no accounting for what fate will deal you. There are some days when we need a hand. There are some days when we’re called on to lend one. That is how we must be with one another.”
In life, you can get lost and you can get found. You can choose to feed the angry, raging wolf inside of you, or you can feed the loving wolf filled with hope, joy, peace, humility, and kindness. It’s up to you. So I’m feeding myself love. I’m feeding myself hope. I’m serving up hope in my home in abundance.
As poet Amanda Gorman said: “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we're brave enough to be it.”
My whole heart and soul want to see the light. How about you?