Sunday, January 1, 2017

Sarabeth's Light Will Guide Me in 2017

Sarabeth on top of Center in the Square last summer.
Each year on January 1, it is my ritual to write a list of 10 (or so) goals for the coming year. These are not “resolutions,” which mean I am damn well resolved to do exactly what I write. The goals can be tailored, altered, adjusted and made to fit circumstances. Resolutions are written in concrete; goals in clay.

The past two months have been especially difficult for me (my friend Jennifer Grover said, “2016 was a bad exercise in surrealism”) and many others because of a presidential election that said something about the country I love that I am having a hard time accepting, and the accidental death of my young friend Sarabeth Hammond. Both have been devastating, stripping much of the hope I generally carry around. But life continues and we must all adjust to the difficult—even the impossible—upon occasion.

My first goal—one completely separate from the official list—will be to honor my young friend by offering up my best to emulate her spirit, her courage, her drive, her creativity, her humanity, her endearing belief in the goodness of us all. Sarabeth has left me—and us—a clear set of guidelines that I, for one, intend to remember when the world looks dark. Her light can brighten the darkest day.

Here are my other goals.
  1. To find the small diamonds in these mountains of feces. I will work hard to encourage, rather than harshly criticize. I will try to find the good even when it apparently is not there. I will not, however, give up my responsibility as a citizen to point out when the government is wrong, which is most of the time these days.
  2. I will take better care of my health. A goal last year was to drop pants size from 38 to 34. I did not achieve that over the year, though I got to 36 at one point. I'm back where I began. The problem has been diet, which I will confront, beginning today. White food will be dramatically diminished.
  3. I will attempt to write something every day that I am happy with. I write every day, but not always to my satisfaction. There are three books on my back burner, two of them with a lot of pages written. I hope to add substantially to their progress.
  4. I will maintain a healthy and consistent exercise program, something that I have been successful with for the past few years. That exercise has led to a lack of colds and flu, the ability to hike, kayak, climb and bike, as my age continues to soar.
  5. I hope again to read more books, a goal last year that I didn't reach (a modest goal at that: a book a month). I have been collecting books on my iPad, but they're just sitting there waiting for me. I won't set a hard number, but I really like the idea of one a month.
  6. I will make a concerted effort to try to understand those issues and people who baffle me. Trying to understand Trump voters, for example, leads me to generalize in a negative fashion that “Trump voters” are one person who wants to destroy what I treasure. That isn't true and I must find a way to understand those voters if I am to be of any use in getting my values heard.
  7. I must let the people I love know that I love them on a regular basis. Life is fleeting and holding back is always regrettable (if you're me, anyway).
  8. I would like to continue to give to my community in ways that matter. This does not have to be public, spectacular or even noticed, bit it would be good if it is important to somebody, one person, two people. That is my responsibility and nobody can do it for me.
  9. I will leave the director's chair of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, which I founded 10 years ago, late this month and I want to leave it healthy and looking at a solid future. Liz Long will take over for me, sending me to a backup role, and I have a great deal of confidence in her. I would also like to step back and not interfere with her way of doing things. I hope she will tell me if I'm in the way.
  10. I hope to be able to appreciate each day for what it brings: joy, challenge, heartbreak, anger, fatigue, illness, health—all of it, because the combination is what makes life full, worthwhile and worth living.


  1. Thanks Dan for your inspiring goals. I think we can all use your list for 2017 and beyond.

  2. Excellent Danr. Please let me know if there is anywhere you need help, I struggle with several and intend daily this year to understand folks & help where I can.

  3. My love to you Dan. I never met Sarabeth, but I was inspired by what you wrote about her here. And I cried all morning for the loss of this beautiful life. Thank you for sharing a bit of your relationship with her here; I feel like I knew her too and for that, I am grateful. And my deepest condolences to you and to all of her family and friends.

  4. Mr. Dan Smith, I've prayed daily for you and yours since this event has taken us all, consumed with hope at first then overcome with grief and sadness.I know that no words, I say can comfort your thoughts. Time does not heal, it just changes each year...tears will be shed but the joy and time that you had with beautiful Sarabeth will forever be locked in your memories. Many people across the valley have shared your grief silently. Your 10 goals are inspiring to all of us, warmest regards.