Friday is Winter Solstice. Hanukkah just ended. Advent continues. Christmas is coming. We have not needed the light so desperately as we do now in a great while. The darkness threatens to overtake us, and it feels futile to light a simple candle or sit in anticipation of the breaking dawn. My heart is heavy and broken.
All week I've read various pleas for multiple causes - gun control, education reform, restructuring of mental health care, a shift from our culture of masculine violence. None of them without merit. The President addressed the families weighed down by grief, and all of us, and said calmly and clearly that we must change. But the change we need seems impossible. It takes an enormous rudder and a significant amount of energy to change the direction of a large ship. How will we ever manage to change a nation?
My faith and my training and my own personal journey teaches me, over and over again, two important lessons about change. First, the change has to start with me. The enemy isn't out there somewhere. She's right here, staring me in the mirror. I am capable, within myself, of callousness and violence. I choose isolation over connection. There are dark places I prefer not to look at within my own soul. So pointing fingers of blame, standing on a soapbox and shouting for reform without making changes myself, arguing and lashing out publicly only serve to distract me from the work I really need to do.
The second lesson gets stated in many different ways, all carrying the same kernel of truth. The only step that I can take now is the step right in front of me. I am a planner. I like to have things scheduled. I want to know the exact order of the items on the checklist that will move me from here to there. The challenge facing us doesn't conform to a schedule or a checklist. Complexity requires flexibility, intuition, compassion and grace more than structure. I can't create a plan to solve these problems in a few easy steps, they are not easy problems. And a complicated blueprint isn't going to help either.
So what should my response be - as a parent, as a mental health professional, as a person of faith, as a human being? The question is daunting. But sitting here in the dark, waiting for the turn back toward the light, here are some of the steps for me.
I will hold my children in a warm embrace and tell them I love them, and then I will send them out into the world with support and courage instead of fear.
I will create spaces to hold stories of fear and pain and grief. Telling our stories matters.
I will choose not to participate in the culture of violence with my time, my money, or my attention. And I will encourage alternatives whenever possible.
I will support gun control with my vote and my money and my voice without pointing fingers or shaming those who hold opinions different than mine. I believe that easy access to assault weaponry contributes to the problem.
I will be an advocate for adequate mental health care. This issue is complicated and far reaching. But I will look for ways to lend my voice and my expertise to the dialogue. And I will continue to learn in order to be more effective.
I will advocate for my clients when they are frustrated in finding the help they need. I will continue to build a network of resources and boldly speak up when and where boldness is needed.
I will actively participate in my children's education, work to prevent bullying, and work to provide alternative environments for students who don't function well in traditional environments.
I will deepen my own faith and my spiritual practice, making time to spend regularly in prayer and meditation. And I will look for and acknowledge the divine in every person I encounter.
I will work to heal my own wounds and step into my own power. I will work through my own shame and guilt. I will honor my feminine nature, my creativity and my intuition, because it's through those things I can bring my own gifts to the world.
I will make an effort connect with the human beings around me. With my friends. With my family. With my neighbors. Community serves as a buffer to the fear and outrage induced by isolation. I will work to create that community, intentionally.
I will do my best not to look away because looking seems too hard. We have to have the hard conversations. We have to feel the grief. We have to bear each other's burdens. Because none of us can do this alone.
And, I will light a candle on Friday in honor of the Solstice and in memory of those lights who are no longer in this time or space. I will light a candle on Christmas Eve from the candle next to me and I will pass that light to the person beside me, in remembrance of the divine light. I will shine my light into the darkness around me with faith that the oil will not run out. And with each small flicker of light, I will hold on to hope.