Oct 1, 2023
Her Perspective

The Thing with Feathers

Sharla Dawn Gorder is a Pensacola Beach resident and columnist for the Island Times newspaper. She is the author of “My Vices Collide; a Celebration of Being a Little Messed Up,” and is currently working on her next book, tentatively titled, “Crayon Dawn.”

I write about hope. I try to write about other things – I even start out writing about other things, but, alas, I always end up writing about hope.

I didn’t start out particularly Pollyanna-ish. I’m a worrier and an over-thinker – two regrettable qualities that can cloud even the sunniest of outlooks. But I am also naturally inquisitive and creative. My mind is a rambunctious toddler most days – not without its charms and very curious – but exhaustingly tangential and needy.

But there is hope for me, and that hope lies in hope itself. I have trained myself to be constantly on the lookout for encouragement. Walt Whitman wrote, “The sidewalk is littered with postcards from God.” I’m sure the beach is too. And the mountains. And your own backyard.

Why, just this morning, the sky came addressed specifically to me. I have been walking the beach most mornings at dawn for nearly a decade, and the variety from day to day still astonishes me. Some mornings, the sun blazes into the sky like an explosion, spraying hallelujah-chorus-sunbeams heavenward and beyond. Other days it is a perfect pink orb pressing slowly up into blue. And some mornings, like today, the light is fleeting and dear. The sun rose into a low mattress of clouds, offering only a sliver of radiance along the horizon before it disappeared into the gray.

The rest of the day has been overcast and stormy, but that first light was glorious, and I was there to revel in that ephemeral ribbon of light before it was devoured by clouds. Sometimes a sliver is all you get.

My cat knows this. Every evening she finds the final sunbeam that flows through the west-facing window onto the green chair. There she sits in the last lambent light, purring like a Kawasaki.

I am learning – from my cat and other hopeful beings – to seek out that sliver of comforting light, however subtle, however ephemeral. It’s more than simply noticing the “silver linings” in my metaphorical rain clouds. It’s more assertive than that. It’s an active positioning of myself to be in the way of fortuity – no matter how quotidian it may seem in the moment, no matter how early I must rise. Like my cat, I have to move with the light.

Even when the light is hard to find. Especially then.

A few years ago, grief blinded me; I wrote in my journal on July 23, 2012, that the stars went out. My precious niece, my friend, one of the brightest stars in my cosmos, died suddenly in a freak accident. She was 27. I had never felt such anguish. Just a few weeks later my best friend was discovered dead in the back of a taxi.

Grief turned to despair – which, by definition, is the loss of hope. Insomnia drove me to the beach by my house at dawn where, eventually, I began to notice those postcards fluttering in the morning breeze, washing up on the incoming tide, floating on the rays of the rising sun. I reached for one, then another. I began sharing their messages with others in a column I write for the beach newspaper. Others began sharing their messages of hope with me.

I listen carefully to those messages. I know how hard-won they can be. Often, in order to find hope, you must first have suffered from its absence, to have plummeted into despair. I admire and learn from those “hopeful beings” who find that subtle ray of light on the green chair under the window at dusk, the slender sliver of light at the horizon before the storm.

Last year, one of my dearest friends called me with “good news.” My heart leaped. She had just been diagnosed with cancer – for the third time. Of course, I wanted to hear that the tests had been wrong, that there was no cancer. But her “good news” was even more impactful than that.

“I only have to have a double mastectomy, no chemo,” she said.

Only a double mastectomy. Talk about finding the sliver. Wow.

I don’t know if hope can be stockpiled, but, just in case, I am amassing as much of it as I can. I place myself on the beach at dawn. I surround myself with people who laugh a lot. I’m even making a conscious effort to slant my screen time toward humor, positivity and beauty. No more watching “Very Scary People” on HLN. No more lurking on social media rants. I’ve got better things to do.

I’ve got hope to gather. It’s everywhere, y’all.

Sometimes it’s a blazing sunrise and it rocks your soul. Sometimes it’s not.

Sometimes a sliver is all you get.

And it is enough.