Photo taken by David Mendel

There's a line towards the end of The Shawshank Redemption, one of my all-time favorite movies, when the character Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, writes in a letter, "Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things …" And, although the "Red" is not me, for some reason, it has always stayed with me, not only because it comes when the Red character, played by Morgan Freeman, is feeling particularly hopeless, but because it's a simple yet very powerful statement.

So, it didn't surprise me when my youngest daughter and I were at Belmont University in Nashville for freshman orientation a few months ago, and I listened to their new president, Dr. Greg Jones, welcome us with a message of hope. He spoke passionately of the power of hope and imagination, the promise of things being better, even while living in turbulent times, and how opportunity and optimism for a brighter future are always possible.

So, in the poignant setting of an auditorium of students and parents preparing for the next stage of their respective lives, it not only resonated but, well, made me think of Andy Dufresne and how he'd probably agree with Dr. Jones and his vision for Belmont to be a catalyst to "Let Hope Abound."

A week ago, I was back at Belmont, this time to drop off my daughter, and I lingered on for a few extra days (no, I wasn't being a clingy mom as it was her request so we could celebrate her first day of classes which fell on my birthday). And even though I wholeheartedly believed in the words of hope as expressed by both Dr. Jones and the character of Andy, part of me was feeling more like the character of Red. Well, that might be a bit dramatic as I didn't actually feel hopeless, just sad.

It was bittersweet. A commonly used word to describe chocolate that's both bitter and sweet at the same time, it was also the perfect way to explain the situation as I felt both hope for the future yet also sadness. Unsure of how to let the "positive" be the focus of my thoughts. And while I knew that thousands (and thousands) of parents were feeling the same way I was, it didn't seem to make it any better. Until …

The night of my birthday, having said our final goodbyes after dinner, my daughter insisted that I should take a final walk around the campus instead of immediately going back to the hotel. Belmont's a beautiful campus, and I smiled as I passed students having impromptu "jam" sessions on the lawns and in gazebos. I walked past a security guard who was obviously enjoying a conversation with a student. And everywhere I walked, there were "flags" proclaiming "Let Hope Abound."

And as I thought to myself that maybe the walk was my daughter's way of letting me know that all would be good, I hear the ping of a perfectly-timed text from my daughter letting me know she was going to meet me and walk with me to the car.

Yes, Andy Dufresne. Yes, Dr. Jones. You're both so right. Hope's a good thing, maybe the best of things. Not only for my daughter and me as we each start new chapters in our lives … but for all college freshmen and their families. Let hope abound!
Photo by Rabbitti for iStock

It’s #GivingTuesday, and although it’s always a good time to think of others, remember all the people who are continuing to deal with the aftermath of natural disasters long after the headlines have been forgotten.

And even though Black believes charitable giving can be “secretive”, she also knows there’s science proving helping others is good for you. (Warning: she likes to recommend the book “Wonder Drug: 7 Scientifically Proven Ways That Serving Others Is the Best Medicine for Yourself.“)

P.S. – Wherever you may choose to donate, beware of potential scammers. So, if in doubt – check them out! (Black likes GuideStar and Charity Navigator.)

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I know today’s Giving Tuesday, but what I always find so amazing is how you treat every day as “Giving Tuesday."

Black's HeadBlack

What makes you say that? I do not donate to an organization or charity every day.

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You’re always so literal. I meant that the spirit of “giving to others”, whether donating or providing support in some way, seems to be part of your daily life.

Black's HeadBlack

I think you are exaggerating.
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Photo courtesy of Red’s eldest daughter, Natasha

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At the risk of asking you a warm and fuzzy question, have you thought about what you’re most thankful for this Thanksgiving?

Black's HeadBlack


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I should’ve guessed that you’d take the question literally. Could you expand on that a little, or at least give me a hint?
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Photo by htomas for iStock

When Red was a child, toilets represented more than a place to go when, well, you had to go. Much to Black’s amusement, Red saw cleaning them as a reward. (Really! Check out Red's post below.) But neither of us realized that billions of people don’t have access to toilets. And if it weren’t for today being World Toilet Day, we never would have known the magnitude of the associated health and safety issues – or the connection between sanitation and groundwater.

RED: What can I tell you? When I was a kid, one of my all-time favorite things to do was … clean the toilet. Yes, you read that correctly. And it wasn’t because I was a germophobe or a clean freak. I just loved being able to sit on the floor, using as much Bon Ami (I’ve no idea why I remember the brand) cleaning powder as I wanted. And the best part? All those bubbles!

It kept me entertained for hours. Not to mention, my mom was thrilled because it kept me “contained” and out of her hair. So much so that if I was very good and behaved myself, she might even give me “special permission” to clean the toilet in my parent’s bathroom. Of course, Black, being five years older and understanding the situation, found it all extremely amusing. Even now, decades later, she still gives me grief about it,

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