Mass shootings.

Violence. Destruction. Crime. Sadness. Death.

Here we are at what is supposed to be the merriest time of the year and every time we turn on a television or open a web browser we’re slapped in the face with bad news.

This isn’t a political blog, nor is it a religious blog. My job isn’t to pitch an agenda or preach a message, in fact, my political opinions are irrelevant and I’m not a religious woman. This blog is simply a place to write about the outdoors.

But today I need to write what’s in my heart, I hope you’ll forgive me for straying off topic.

Several years ago I was serving in the Army and deployed to Tikrit, Iraq. It was during the “surge,” when the U.S. was ramping up efforts to secure the country and continue fighting Al-Qaeda in Iraq. My year-long deployment had been extended another 3 months. I was constantly worried about my husband, who was an infantry officer and deployed not far from Sadr City in Baghdad, where things were really bloody and dangerous. I was physically exhausted, always worried about my soldiers and my husband. I was mentally drained and often overwhelmed, but it was life and a life that I had chosen.

I remember one particular day when I was on a slow moving convoy outside of a remote village. For some reason, I was feeling a little bit hopeless. But when I looked out the window of my humvee I caught a glimpse of the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was walking with a few young children down a dirt road near several rudimentary homes. Her children, in threadbare clothing, were laughing and smiling, kicking a soccer ball between themselves. In her arms was a baby, at her skirt a toddler.

The woman was wearing a dark dress, but instead of a dark hijab covering her head she wore a pink floral scarf. She was wearing red lipstick and had dark kohl eyeliner around her eyes. Instead of looking at the ground, as Iraqi women often did when our vehicles passed, she had held her head high with confidence.  She was smiling.

The truth is, she shouldn’t have been smiling.

From what I could gather she didn’t have much by way of material possessions. She had a lot of children to feed and take care of, she lived in a shack, and her village and country were a crazy mess.

Our eyes caught just for a brief second and in her eyes I didn’t see sadness or fear. I saw a joy.

I saw hope.

Later that night when I was writing in my journal I couldn’t get her out of my mind.

Why was she smiling? What made her so confident and so full of hope?

I’m sure I’ll never know. I don’t know if she is still smiling, still hopeful or even still alive.

But I do know that during a dark time in my life her smile gave me hope.

Last night after dinner my kids were super cranky.

So, I bundled them up. Gave them each a headlamp and we headed outside for a dark walk through the neighborhood.

My children weren’t unlike those Iraqi children walking down the road with their mother. They were giggling and smiling, only they were tossing snowballs at each other and stopping to make snow angels in every fresh patch of snow they could find, instead of kicking around a soccer ball.

As I followed the beam of light coming from their headlamps, I thought about the Iraqi woman. I often think of her when it feels like the events of the world are one big shitstorm.

She lived in a dark world, full of war, sadness and destruction.

But she chose to smile and show me hope. She caused me to think about my situation and find light and goodness in it.

I like to think, and I really have no evidence to prove this, that perhaps she saw hope because instead of focusing on the war around her and what she didn’t have she might have just focused on her beautiful children and the good things that were going on in her life instead. Maybe for her, it was just a matter of seeing a half full glass instead of a half empty glass.

If you’ve made it thus far into my sappy story you’re probably like me.

Your heart literally aches when you think of those who are sad or grieving. Your heart aches when you think of those who are lonely, or impoverished. You might be scared sometimes, or feel like there is no hope. You want to do all you can to help others, but sometimes you can only help yourself.

And then we turn on facebook and are bombarded with political rants and vile diatribes against those who may have different ideas or opinions than us on how to solve the problems of the world.

The holiday season is supposed to be a magical season of light, peace and hope. It’s supposed to be a season of giving, love and kindness.

I’ll always remember looking into those dark Iraqi eyes through the lens of my ballistic sunglasses and seeing hope and learning that hope isn’t focusing on the bad. Hope is focusing on the good.

I’m wishing you hope and peace, my friends.

Peace, hope AND hiking 😉

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