We wake up each morning and watch the world around us burn. We see corruption, scandal, and the decimation of democracy. We see sickness and intentional disregard for collective healing and health. We see injustice, racism, violence, and willful perpetration of all three. It is heartbreaking, infuriating, and exhausting. So it’s not surprising that we sometimes prefer to pull the covers over our head, cross our fingers that things will get better, and go back to an unsettled and restless sleep.
The shadows seduce, to be sure. But they are not our home.
I know this because of my own stories – lived experiences in which I’ve feebly-but-miraculously watched the darkness dissipate as I stepped into the light, into my own strength and voice and agency. I know this because of the countless stories of women I love, reimagine, retell, and take respite in – again and again. Overcoming centuries of maligned tellings, they are light personified and embodied; they are beacon and guide. And I know this because of so many other stories I cherish.
One of my favorites is The Lord of the Rings. I have read the book and watched the extended edition films almost as ritual. Throughout, Frodo, Sam, and those who aid their quest, are far more familiar with shadow than light. At times the pressing weight is more than they can bear; somehow, they persist and (barely) survive. This scene offers me both respite and invitation. Sam says,
“I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something.”
“What are we holding on to, Sam?”
“That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo…and it’s worth fighting for.”
Indeed. When we step out of the shadows and into the light, when we hold on, when we keep fighting, we become the switch that’s flipped in a pitch black room. The cellphone flashlight that nearly blinds. The lone candle that warms an entire space. The campfire that glows. The bonfire that cleanses. The star that shines. The laser that burns.
Even as the world burns, an election looms, and systemic bigotry and hatred run rampant. Even as we lose jobs or struggle within them. Even as we internally debate about speaking up or staying silent. Even as we wrestle with compliance, compromise, and the cost of defiance. Even as we rage, ache, and weep. In every bit of it – always, all the time – the light endures. We do.
Further into the story and far from home, Sam reflects:
“For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing; there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”
The shadows are not our home. We must trust that the light endures…and step into it.
And how? The answer is as unique as each of our stories. We speak up. We stand tall. We say no. We say yes. We step forward. We act. We choose. We vote. We rage. We love. We hold on. We fight. We blaze – brilliant, blinding, breathtaking.
When we do, the darkness has no choice. It must flee.
May it be so.
[I am not remotely confused: I write these words for my own sake, for my own encouragement, for my own clarity and compulsion and next steps. I’m hopeful they offer you even a taste of the same, a bit of light in the darkness, a Sunday sermon of-sorts.]
Photo by Chronis Yan on Unsplash