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Six years ago I had a Christmas season so dark I wasn’t sure I would see myself out.

I was in my senior year of college and everything was going up in flames. I was overwhelmed in my final semester of Arabic, I had a lot riding on a final presentation in a media history course with a notoriously tough to impress professor and the documentary I needed to turn in for my capstone to earn my Broadcasting degree was woefully inadequate. My attempt at a Fulbright grant had fallen apart and my room was so messy most of the time I could hardly make it to my desk. All seemed lost.

It might sound trivial recounting this now to everyone reading who has long since found a career for themselves, but with ever-shrinking job prospects available for journalists my multiple failures echoed like the end of the world. By the time I got handed a C in one of my courses for the year and a professor gravely told me I was in real danger of failing my final documentary course altogether, I wanted everything to be over in a way so final only God can take it back.

But, here I am. In the final days of the semester, I managed to pull myself out of a deadly tailspin with the help of my professors, family, friends and some well-placed signs from the universe to keep going and see what happened on the other side. Since you’re reading this in the pages of a newspaper that once employed me, you know the rest of the story.

No book captures the despair of depression and the march back toward the light than last year’s “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig. Part science fiction book, part It’s A Wonderful Life, this book delves into some of life’s biggest questions. If you could do life over again, what would you do? What are your regrets? Are the alternative lives you could have chosen any better than this one? The lessons here are vast and I suspect I will be returning to this book over and over again as I inevitably get sucked back into the cycle of wondering if I’ve made an irreversible series of mistakes, like I feared I had back in the winter of 2015.

Nora Seed is stuck. She had so much potential growing up, as a student, an athlete and a musician, and is instead wasting away in her hometown with not much to show for her life. When she gets fired from her part-time job at the local music store and finds her cat dead in the street, she decides to end it all. But instead, she wakes up in a library offering her a multitude of choices on how to start over and explore all of those potential avenues she fears she missed out on.

There are infinite books and infinite regrets, letting Nora live out all sorts of alternate realities. Over the course of “The Midnight Library,” her beloved childhood librarian guides her through all sorts of possible lives and forces her to examine her potential. She checks out her possible life as an arctic explorer, a famous rock musician and a record-breaking swimmer turned motivational speaker. Through each passing page, she slips in and out of all of her alternate universes and beats back her desire to die.

One of the things that makes “The Midnight Library” so impactful is it invites you to consider important touchstones in your own life as you walk through Nora’s brush with death. For instance, the library presents itself differently to each person who ends up there. In Nora’s world it is modeled after her childhood elementary school library. If I landed in the midnight library, I suspect it would take the shape of the records room at the newspaper where I worked after college. My first editor in news would likely be my guide.

What this book does so expertly is it reveals to you the futility of wondering about what could have been, who you could have dated, where you could have moved and what you could be doing for a job. It’s all gone, but what matters is the potential inside of you to move ahead. And as easy as these words are to type, I could not see my own possibilities in those dark days my senior year of college. I saw everything I had lost, but a potential future where I took a class reporting on the Virginia state legislature, landed some newspaper clips and turned everything around was unfathomable.

I’m so glad I chose life six years ago, and continue to do so. “The Midnight Library” inspired me to keep pushing ahead, just as the pressures of my late 20s and the pandemic were encouraging me to look back into the gloom once again.

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