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A View from Alabama

January 11, 2022 — Looking for Light

A confluence of circumstances has me looking for light as 2022 gets underway.

The heaviness that the Covid virus dumped on our country beginning two years ago seemed to be lifting as 2021 was winding down only to be reimposed by the Omicron variant. Was this the fourth or fifth U.S. wave of this virulent (57 million), deadly (829,000), and disabling (uncounted long haulers who may suffer the consequences of their illnesses for their lifetimes) disease? None of us has been unaffected by this pandemic. Anxiety over the health of our friends, family, and ourselves; restrictions and disruptions to our lifestyles; testing and vaccine access and issues have all taken a toll.

On a personal level, the aging process began to dramatically affect my lifestyle. While my wife has dealt with chronic pain for several years, I have been blessed with good health (If you exclude heart bypass surgery).  Recently I have had to begin using a cane because of a bad hip. A steroid shot didn’t help. The pain and reduced mobility have been a downer.

I’m also deeply worried about the future of our democracy. Donald Trump tried everything, including attempting to coerce secretaries of state to alter vote counts (“Brad just find me 11,780 votes; that’s all I need”). Seventy-one percent of Republicans remain convinced, despite powerful evidence often provided by other Republicans, to the contrary, that the 2020 election was stolen. If such a large group can be so easily deluded, it’s easy to envision the rise of an American dictator.

Add in the normal stresses of life and most Americans are carrying a difficult load. The proof is there: suicides and drug overdose deaths are at all-time highs.

I read a piece that described a new term for the mental health of many of us—languishing. We’re not clinically depressed, but we’re not our normal selves either. Things just don’t seem as hopeful; we are reluctant to make plans. We are just plodding along with our heads down. This seems to reflect itself in a negative economic outlook even though millions of new jobs were created in 2021, unemployment is at a near-record low of 4.2 percent, and the stock market closed 2021 at record highs.

As a Christian, I believe part of the way out of this national sluggishness rests in bolstering our spiritual life. After all, didn’t Jesus say, “I came to give you life and life to the fullest”? Other faiths offer hope in difficult times as well. Languishing is certainly not living life to the fullest.

Recently during a Sunday School Zoom meeting, the discussion centered around how we could deepen our spiritual lives to overcome the “languishing” effect of these times. Our young associate pastor, who lived in New Orleans during the early, most rigid restrictions of the pandemic, commented that he and his wife would take short car trips during which they would often find light in the beauty of our world. They built on these experiences to enrich their spiritual life.

Within the next day or two I had a couple of these “light” experiences. The first came while watching an ESPN program on the 1957 Auburn football national championship season. The names, faces, and experiences of Auburn college life that ESPN presented were all wonderfully familiar to me. There was coach Shug Jordan, who inherited a football program that was 0-10 in 1950 and grew it into a national championship in his seventh season, building character in his boys along the way. There were the attractive beauty queens. There was my fraternity brother, a cheerleader, brimming with life. There was the old campus which held so many fond memories for me. I found myself filled with light.

The next night we watched a biopic on the musical times of James Taylor and Carole King. Once again, I was transported by the music and the memories. A few years back my wife and I attended a Broadway presentation of Beautiful, a story of Carole King’s life and music. Even now, when we are in Destin, the talented saxophonist in the East Bar at Ruth’s Chris will play Carole King’s music when requested. I felt the gift of light enter my body as I watched and listened to James Taylor and Carole King play and sing their familiar music.

These little moments happen to all of us; we can maximize their benefit by being alert and, when they come, acknowledging them with gratitude. Darkness surrounds us, but there is light in many of life’s experiences.

I resolve in 2022 to look for the light and delight in it when it comes my way.                                                                                                                                

Philip A. Watts

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Phil Watts learned some early life lessons as a paperboy on the Southside of Birmingham, where he grew up. His education continued at Auburn University, where he earned a mechanical engineering degree and made lifelong friends in his Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. Later he earned an MBA from Samford University and served in the U.S. Army.

Licensed as a professional engineer, he co-founded Control and Power, Inc., an industrial distribution business in 1959. He retired from that business in 2011. His interests over the years have included handball, bicycling, canoeing, snow skiing, and reading. He is a longtime member and Sunday School teacher at Southside Baptist, an all-inclusive church in Birmingham, where he still lives. He is married and has three children and two grandchildren.

Phil wrote for business purposes throughout his career, along with occasional personal pieces. He became more serious about his writing after the infamous escalator ride at Trump Tower in 2015. His essays on life and politics circulated to his circle of friends for several years. Beginning in September 2019, they began to appear as regular features on The Op-Ed Page at www.newsouthbooks.com. 

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