Michelle Martin

Look for the good

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

If all you ever look for are the bad things in life — things that make you afraid, things that make you angry, things that make you despair for the future of humanity — that’s what you’ll see. And, God knows, there are plenty of bad things out there.

It reminds of a Girl Scout camping trip I took with Caroline while she was still in elementary school. The girls were in heavy canvas tents built on platforms, the leaders and mothers who volunteered to join us in another tent nearby.

It was a warm, humid night in the woods of Wisconsin, and the mosquitos were thick. The girls batted at them and complained, but no one got really upset until they went to bed. That’s when they started to shine their flashlights into all the corners and crevices of those old canvas tents, and screaming each time they found a spider.

There were a lot of screams that night, despite the fact that most of the spiders were just chilling in the dark, waiting for bugs to eat. People were irrelevant to them, at least until the people started shining lights and making noise and chasing them from their corners.

It didn’t matter how much we explained that in this environment, the spiders were no threat. All the girls could see were scary, hairy creatures with too many legs and eyes that reflected the beams of their flashlights back.

There were a lot of mosquito bites that weekend, but, to the best of my knowledge, no spider bites. And after a long day of canoeing and archery and crafts — and long walks from one activity to another — the second night was much quieter.

When you stop looking for something to be afraid of, it’s easier to appreciate everything else: the quiet of the woods, the stars you can see away from the city lights, even the scent of the campfire.

“Look on the bright side” is simplistic advice, a cliche. Not seeing the scary things isn’t really an option, and we certainly should not turn away from seeing and confronting injustice.

But we need to look for the good at the same time. Too often, people brand neighborhoods, communities, even whole cities as dangerous and scary. It’s a phenomenon with which we in Chicago are too familiar.

Yes, my kids who have gone away to college on the East Coast have been asked if they every saw anyone get shot when they have said they were from Chicago. Yes, my husband has heard parents, bringing their kids to lessons and events in Chicago, tell other parents that they really have to move out of the city before their children are teenagers. It’s just too dangerous otherwise.

But letting that fear rule you means missing so much. It means missing the pleasure of sitting on beach that’s free and open to all, among families and teenagers and older people of all descriptions, the joy of walking through a new neighborhood and finding storefront restaurants and pocket gardens, the sense of history as elders share their stories.

None of that means there’s nothing to be afraid of; crime does happen and spiders do bite. Exercising due caution is never a bad idea. But don’t let fear stop you from appreciating the good that is all around you. Because, as we learn from Genesis, good is all around us, and in us, because we are God’s creation living in God’s creation, and God saw his creation and said that it was good.

We just have to make the effort to see the good, instead of always looking for the bad.


  • family life