On Candles and Darkness

I’m just coming back from a week-long vacation, seeing family, relaxing, and reading a lot. But in the world beyond my little personal bubble, it’s been a really bad couple weeks. Terrorist attacks in Paris, Libya, Mali. An outpouring of religious hatred against refugees fleeing for their lives, with presidential candidates fanning the flames. And a spate of domestic terrorism, from armed rallies, arson, and vandalism at mosques to a deadly shooting at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado.

So in the midst of all this, I’ve been railing against all the evil and hate in the world. I’ve posted on Facebook about hate crimes, about Donald Trump falsely accusing American Muslims of celebrating 9/11, about the connection between dehumanizing rhetoric and terrorist violence. And I’ve been thinking about that old saying, that it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. While I think it’s true, I also feel a weird pressure to be positive and sunshiny when the world seems to be falling apart all around me or to be super kind and sensitive even when calling out evil, and I don’t think that’s helpful.

Sure, lighting a candle is better and more useful than cursing the darkness, but you don’t always have a candle handy. Sometimes you just need to say “HEY! It’s really dark over here!” in the hopes that someone else will come by with a candle. Or the darkness is so deep and seemingly impenetrable that your little candle doesn’t do much to dispel it. So you yell about the darkness to anyone who will listen, trying to spur people to bring not just candles but lanterns and spotlights. And sometimes cursing the darkness is really all you can do, because you tripped and fell in that darkness. Now you’re on the floor with a sprained ankle and no candles in reach, so you curse. Not only because you need a hand, but because cursing actually helps with the pain.

At the same time, you can get wrapped up in cursing the darkness, to the exclusion of everything else. And as good and useful as it is to point out the darkness, and stand up against it, it’s also necessary to point out the light where you find it. Like with everything else, I guess it’s a balance.