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This hasn’t been the easiest year; that’s something that most of the world can likely agree on right now. Like my colleagues, I’ve spent the last nine months or so neck-deep in the news. As a result, I’ve taken a lot in as I’ve continued reporting and writing. But I haven’t taken the time to process that information along the way, and that lack of reflection has begun to take its toll on my mental health. While I consider myself to be typically energetic and a positive thinker, I haven’t felt my best of late.
A few weeks ago, I was feeling particularly low when “Today” co-anchor and co-host of “Today With Hoda & Jenna” Hoda Kotb’s second book of quotes, “This Just Speaks to Me: Words to Live By Every Day,” compiled with her close friend Jane Lorenzini (who also gave Kotb an assist with the first book of quotes, “I Really Needed This Today”), came in the mail. Its arrival, timing-wise, couldn’t have been more perfect.
Kotb’s book is structured to give a reader one quote for each day, beginning Jan. 1, 2021. (And who can wait for that day to come? Good riddance to 2020.) Because I was reading it ahead of the scheduled start, I gave myself the freedom to leaf through it, stopping at various quotes and reading the author’s anecdotes beneath.
A few of my favorites include:
- “Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly and most underrated agent of human change.” — Bob Kerrey
- Below the quote, Kotb shares a story about how through social media, the wife of a doctor treating COVID-19 patients received a major kindness from strangers after putting out a request for help and consequently started a movement for others in similar situations.
- “Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.” — Zig Ziglar
- Kotb followed up with her own inspiration for readers: “If you’re traveling a difficult road right now, may it soon turn into the Yellow Brick Road. Keep going!”
- “It’s not the weight you carry, but how you carry it.” — Mary Oliver
- This one speaks for itself. But Kotb added to it. “The best of us do this with grit and grace, and even without anyone’s noticing,” she writes.
The book, Kotb tells USA TODAY, changed as result of the pandemic, just as the world did.
“The world changed so profoundly, in so many ways, that we just reevaluated. It was funny because some of the things that seemed so important and pressing at the time you realize aren’t,” she says, noting that the 365-quote volume should reflect the outside world, and the quotes they had chosen originally didn’t do that. But by the time the book was complete, they did.
Most of the quotes pertain to daily life, but many apply to the pandemic specifically.
Sitting in my apartment and leafing through the book, I let the quotes sink in and started to feel better, understanding more deeply how strangers were experiencing similar feelings based on an assembly of words that formed quotes and anecdotes — especially stories of people doing good for others. I’d never thought that I was alone in what I was feeling, but reading quotes that pertain to what others are also feeling gave me a kind of comfort, like being wrapped in a blanket.
Words have a lot of power, a fact that Kotb is acutely aware of.
“If you think about it, some of the most profound moments of our life, and changes in our life happen in few words,” she explains. “‘It’s a boy.’ ‘She’s gone.’ ‘I do.'”
The same way words strung together can change your world, they can also enhance how you experience it.
“Quotes can speak to you on a given day or a given year, and then a year later they don’t anymore, [like how] you’re going through whatever you’re gong through in your life,” Kotb explained. “I’m always fascinated if five words strung together can hit you in such a profound way, and sometimes it’s almost like you can’t believe someone else is feeling what you’re feeling.”
The book, she hopes, can help readers find light in darkness — which is something, she says, isn’t easy. But it’s very important, to “train your gaze,” she continues, to look at positives and things that lift you up. “This Just Speaks to Me” provides that, especially right now when we are seeing “a lot of bad stuff” happening around us.
“I think people probably need it now maybe more than they did before. I mean, I kind of do, personally,” Kotb says. “I think I need a little extra of everything now.”
Feeling what you’ve gone through, she says, is important: We need to feel it so that we don’t shove it so deep down that we don’t know why, later on, we’re so devastated by something. The book, she says, is filled with little bits of advice to help readers make it through the tough times.
“You’re not by yourself… I think not being alone is one of the best feelings in the world, knowing someone else felt it, felt it so profoundly that they wrote those words [of a quote] that moved you,” Kotb says.
“This Just Speaks to Me” has provided me a comfort and kind of safe space where I can go to give myself a moment of positive pause, one that I didn’t even know I needed when I picked the book up. But now that I have it, I’ll be picking the book up from my bedside shelf, again and again.
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