Though the majority of my life has been spent on the same northern latitude line as Moscow, somehow the increasing darkness of winter days manages to astonish me every year. Trying to drag myself out of bed on these pitch-black mornings is a significant daily challenge now. And then, “I can’t believe it’s dark so early,” we continually say around dinnertime. Just as I tend to be surprised by the annual seasons of darkness, I am also sometimes surprised by the times of darkness in my mind. As these phases come and go, I have learned a few things about bringing some of the light back in for myself, and about being a friend to others experiencing darkness.

First, I have learned the limits of my role. While a friend can provide love, support, and a warm presence in a struggling person’s life, the role of counselor should be reserved for actual professionals. One of the most important things we can do is to assist someone in finding a good counseling professional they feel supported by. One of the most dangerous things we can do (both for ourselves and others) is to try and take on that role without the required knowledge and skills.

A practice I have started consistently doing with friends who are struggling is looking for and sharing our daily “bright moments” with each other. Rather than talking through our deepest emotional struggles, we focus on little moments that lighten our hearts or make us smile. While I have found that seeking out a bright moment to share is a useful personal process to go through, I also receive unexpected joy from my friends’ bright moments.

Most of the images or thoughts I send fit neatly into four categories: a beautiful scene outdoors, something particularly amusing my children did, a rare snuggle with one of my moody cats, or a delicious treat I am excited about eating. Bright moments I receive often center around the same themes, with surprises such as beautiful gardening or home improvement accomplishments. Receiving these bright moments from friends reminds me there is good everywhere — even in our times of anxiety, stress, or darkness.

We experience darkness in many ways, and I know many of us have deep misgivings about the current state of political and social discourse surrounding us. While not universal, I often hear from individuals who feel hopeless about the future, in relation to unity or even productive conversations. From all directions, people feel that others will not listen to reason. If that is reality, how can we move forward?

Maybe the benefit of sharing bright moments can be found within this context as well. When we have a positive interaction with someone who does not share our views, what if we shared that with others? When we see a group we tend to disagree with doing something positive, what if we literally took note? Whenever we see examples of individuals reaching across the aisle, or working successfully through their differences, we can point it out for others to see.

So many positive examples of these behaviors happen around us each day. Within our homes, within our churches, and within every organization we belong to, major differences of belief and opinion exist. The more we recognize how we are indeed moving forward together despite insurmountable-seeming differences, the less the darkness is apparent.

I may be so surprised by the increased darkness each fall because my mindset embraces the return of light so wholeheartedly throughout the spring and summer. Yet, fall on the Palouse is glorious. The hours of sunlight shining through the flaming reds, glowing yellows, and pale greens of the trees in their splendor bring endless bright moments for me.

Just as I must walk outside during the day to experience these breathtaking glimpses of fall beauty, it can be easy to miss bright moments in our communities. We must stand up, reach out and engage with others in shared causes. As we seek out chances for bright moments to occur — especially when it means some discomfort — we grow. And when these memorable moments do occur, sharing them may help others feel a greater measure of optimism and hope for the future.

Palmer is a wife, mother of four, and doctoral student at the University of Idaho. She has been experiencing bright moments on the Palouse since 2012. Palmer can be reached at palm1634@vandals.uidaho.edu.

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