By Karen Hendricks
I hit a new milestone in 2020. Besides spending a record number of days at home, I also escaped long enough to log 1,000 miles on the run—my highest annual mileage ever.
Maybe that’s because running, in fact, helped me process the pandemic. Some days brought more perspective than others. But a thousand miles worth of “me time” gave me plenty of time to think about things. And there was a lot to think about in 2020.
Nearly every day on my neighborhood running route, I passed a handmade sign. It appeared in the spring, shortly after the pandemic hit. “Deer + Fawns X-ing,” it cautioned on bright orange posterboard, tacked up on a pine tree.
The first day I noticed the sign, it almost brought me to tears. It was a day when the pandemic had me feeling pretty hopeless and down. To be clear, it wasn’t just the pandemic—it was the ugliness of politics, race and social justice issues too. Issues became layered and compounded, one upon the other, sometimes intertwined, for multiple layers of complexity in 2020. Sometimes it felt like everywhere I turned, there were new, deepening, ever-developing issues mired in controversies, dissension and tension.
But that bright orange sign appeared and gave me hope. Because that sign meant that someone cared. During a time when we were all experiencing less personal human interaction, it was a reminder that there were still kind people nearby—as well as nature. Despite all the ugliness in our world, nature was still beautiful and flourishing—unaware and unaffected by the pandemic or politics. Indeed, I spied the deer crossing the road near that very spot too.
So on a day when I was losing all faith in humanity, that orange sign restored it—at least a little bit. It reminded me that there are indeed kind, caring people in our midst—with initiative.
As spring turned to summer, and then to fall, I looked for the sign almost daily, with fondness. Turning the corner, with anticipation, to see if the sign was still there, became ingrained in my running routine. It became a daily visual reminder that there are still good people in this world, throughout the pandemic, throughout the election cycle, throughout controversies and conspiracy theories and all the ugliness infesting 2020’s daily news.
I thought surely, one day, the sign would be removed either by that thoughtful neighbor, or the wind and rain. Because surely, the deer were long gone, and the fawns were not fawns anymore.
During the late afternoon hours of December 31, as I ran my final miles of 2020 and crossed over the 1,000 mark, the sign was still there. I smiled and reflected on how that one little act of human kindness had impacted my year—and gave me optimism for 2021.