When things look the darkest it is natural for us to look the hardest for slivers of light.
We find them, or they us, at strange and unexpected times, and they don't arrive with flashing lights and bugle fanfares.
Sometimes we have to watch and listen.
My son, Sean Holland, died Oct. 24 at 47 after a long and courageous battle with cancer. His wife, mother, stepfather and I were at hand. There were tears, hugs and great towering waves of anguish for all of us.
I mention this primarily because I wrote about his illness a couple of months ago, and was touched by the kind responses from readers and friends, but also in part because of something that happened a few nights before his death while I was staying in a Gainesville motel room between visits at Haven Hospice, Shands at the University of Florida and his home.
Disgusted by endless campaign advertising and talking heads filling airtime with droning discussions about what they don't know, I switched to a favorite, The Daily Show, for a lighter touch.
Host Jon Stewart was interviewing Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and, not being a big Harry Potter fan, I wasn't paying rapt attention other than that due from any writer when another writer who has made more than a $1 billion with more than 450 million books in print is speaking.
But then I heard what she had to say about why she has chosen to "stay and pay," and I perked up.
Rowling could be living somewhere like Belize or Monaco, where there are no income taxes. Instead she chooses to live in her native United Kingdom where tax rates that pay for the kind of social system abhorred by some Americans are massive.
Don't ask me how massive. Like most Americans, I can't figure out a 1040, much less the ins and outs of a complex system that provides government paid health care and "benefits," as the British call them, for the poor. I feel comfortable saying she pays millions in taxes.
Because at one time in her life, Rowling said she was "as poor as it is possible to go in the UK without being homeless."
She wrote for seven years without knowing if any of her books would ever be published.
She stays and pays because she feels she owes it to those who are less fortunate.
"I owe," she said. "My country helped me. There were places in the world I would have starved."
In a week of bellicose bellowing about entitlements, she spoke of obligation.
The second uplifting message came from my friends Molly Moorhead and her husband, John Sessa. She is a reporter for Politifact and he is an expert bicycle mechanic who works for an international racing team.
Molly and John were at a wedding in Port Townsend, Wash., for a rider on the team.
They noticed that the best man's girlfriend was hearing impaired and were impressed that he was signing other people's words and the wedding ceremony to her.
But more impressive was that the best man's friends, including the groom, had also learned sign language in order to be able to communicate with her.
Some, Molly noticed, were spelling words out in sign language.
They had learned the American Sign Language alphabet and not just a few signs, meaning they had gone to a lot of effort.
"It's hard to imagine a greater display of love and friendship," said Molly, tearing up as she told me the story.
So there you have it: a billionaire writer who feels obligated to reach back and help those who are now where she once was (what Stewart called " a perfect example of government making a good investment") and a group of friends, on a bride's special day, going out of their way to make the best man's girlfriend feel welcome.
These are, perhaps, not earthshaking examples. Maybe they lack drama, but please know this.
I am touched and moved that I have friends who have friends like the guests at that wedding — and who are smart enough to know when they are in the presence of grace.
And, though never a fan (not a detractor, either, just not a fan) of the Potter books, I have purchased Rowling's new book, The Casual Vacancy.
I am buying it partly because it deals with the social milieu from which she came. And I am buying if for the same reason I bought The Satanic Verses in 1988 when the Ayatollah Khomeini ordered that author Salman Rushdie should be murdered over content he said was blasphemous. Frankly I never understood it, but buying it was a matter of principle.
And I know I am quoting Linda Loman, from Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, out of context, but it still fits.
Sometimes, especially when the universe is throwing more minuses than pluses at you and something makes you smile, "Attention must be paid."