One night when my husband and I were in the city having dinner with friends one of my sons, who was sixteen at the time, was home alone in our safe, suburban community. We unexpectedly had a call from him saying the electric company had just left a message that they would be turning off the power for about four hours. As I was talking to him, the power shut down and he was immersed in the pitch black silence of the night.
My son, who I had never known to be afraid of the dark, was petrified and his voice began to shake. I called my neighbor, who rushed over to get him and take him to their back porch where the light of their fire pit was blazing and their family was huddled together.
We’re all afraid of the dark
We’re all afraid of the dark in some way. Some are afraid of the dark thoughts that creep in as they lie awake in the wee hours of the night. You might be afraid of the darkness spewed out at us and our children through social media, crude song lyrics, and violent video games and movies. And many of us are afraid of the darkness that appears to be engulfing our world in hurt, pain, and suffering.
So what do you do with all this darkness? How do you navigate it? How do you do your part to be light in the darkness without being overcome with fear, grief, and despair? The answer is this: You have walk toward it and look for the light.
Look for the light!
When I was in my twenties, I was a member of Old St. Michael’s, a big, beautiful church in the city. The 7:00 p.m. Mass on Sunday night was packed with young adults in their twenties and thirties. The church was alive with energy. I ran the peace and social justice committee, which organized a variety of service projects in our community.
One Sunday morning, I was standing in the back of the church hosting a table for those interested in joining our committee. Before Mass ended, a stereotypical “bag lady” walked into the church. I immediately hoped she would not come my way because I had no idea how to deal with her. Yet she came right up to me, looked me in the eye, and politely asked a question. “Where can I leave this donation for the food pantry?” Then she held out a bag full of canned goods.
I was stunned by her action and my prejudice.
Wake-up Call #1
Around that same time, my husband and I regularly delivered meals prepared by members of our parish to a homeless shelter in the community. We helped serve the meals and then stayed to clean up. It occurred to us it might be nice to spend a little time with the guests and get to know them better, so we decided to get a group together to play board games after the meal. We usually had to do some encouraging before we had enough people to play, and we split up in teams so more could participate.
A lot of the people who came to the shelter did not look homeless. They just looked down on their luck. But some looked to be dealing with serious issues like mental illness. One Sunday, a man who appeared to be among those with mental illness approached the table I was at to ask if he could join us. I could see the concern on the faces of everyone at the table, including the homeless individuals. But there was no way I could say no, so he joined in.
The game we were playing was Chicago Trivia. There were questions about the city’s history that covered every decade, and except for one man, none of us could answer them. The outcast, the man who looked disheveled and out of sorts, knew every answer. Who was this guy? What had happened to him and why was he here?
Wake-up Call #2
I could go on and on about all of the times I have seen light in the dark. Even if it’s just a light bulb that goes off in my own head when I realize that what I thought was real isn’t. Where I thought there was only darkness, there was light. It had just gotten buried, and it just needed someone to see its truth.
What if we need the dark to appreciate the light? What if we need to experience fear, suffering, and sorrow to savor the peace, joy, and love? What if the way out of the darkness is not to run from it but to run to it and find out what it has to teach us? We might not be able to fix every problem, but we can try. We might not be able to stop every injustice, but we can be with people in their suffering.
What does the dark have to teach us?
Everything looks dark until you get up close and take a good look. Sometimes you learn things about the people you serve, and sometimes you learn things you never knew about yourself. And when that happens, the illumination spreads far beyond that one thing. But before that can happen, you have to open the door and approach the darkness with curiosity and willingness to understand it.
It doesn’t help for us to get sucked into the darkness, so how do we step into it without getting lost? We need to be sure our own light is strong. That’s why soul care and self-care are so important for light bearers.
Just like a tree needs sun and rain to live and grow and burst into a flame of color, we, too, need the light and the dark to become all that we are meant to become. In time, we just might find that we’re no longer afraid of the dark!