This Little Light of Mine

Forgive me if I start with a downer: I’ve been living in a place of enormous darkness that holds, somewhere in here, a nightmare.

For months, I’ve not slept at night because I haven’t dared. What if I’m sleeping when the disaster strikes? I wake with a start after sleeping two or three hours. The TV is still on, still telling me the nightmare is real. Despite the silver screen’s eerie light, the darkness is a weight that presses down on me. I can’t breathe. It’s thick and sticky; it won’t let me go. It holds me in a state of pounding terror, unable to drift off again.

Then came last Tuesday’s election and last Saturday’s long-awaited announcement. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have reclaimed the White House and set about healing the gaping wounds within this nation. The relief is incredible.

It was mid-morning when I heard the news. Outside, car horns were blaring and people were cheering. The darkness lifted. I wept. I giggled. I kept changing channels to be reassured that it was true. For that glorious moment Saturday morning, I knew what it meant to experience an explosion of hope. I was giddy.

I stayed buoyant all of Saturday. By Sunday evening, I felt the darkness edging back in, swallowing my joy in the shadows of harsh realities. The Republicans were actually taking seriously Trump’s unfounded charges about a rigged election. No evidence. No truth. Just politics as usual with Mitch Just-Call-Me-No McConnell leading the way.

Nothing had changed. You couldn’t squeeze a gracious concession speech from Trump. Of course.

The letter needed to launch the transition from one presidency to the next wouldn’t be authorized, not by this loser.

The nation was still horribly divided, now with new anger fueled by the pain of defeat.

We’re still living in the fire of a roaring pandemic; we’re being stalked by death and we’re demonstrating fatigue with the fight. News of a 90%-effective vaccine — really? — lifted my spirits for nearly ten minutes before I remembered Nietzsche’s grim note, “Hope is the worst of all evils because it prolongs man’s torments.”

What to do?

Yesterday, something jogged my memory of the morning I was invited to preach at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. It was the 30th anniversary of the KKK bombing that took the lives of four Sunday school girls. The morning I was to preach, the girls’ families were seated at the front of the congregation. I was looking at them, full of dignity and forgiveness, when the church’s choir took up the chords of “Amazing Grace.” It was a moment in my life that was so elevating, so rich in honesty and pain, so soul-comforting and full of hope, that I wept before I spoke.

Weeks later, I was preaching at the First AME Church of Los Angeles in the smoke of riots following the abuse of Rodney King. I was midway through my sermon when I heard the organist playing a single line of notes, a familiar melody. The music grew louder, the choir rose joined in, and soon the whole congregation was singing and swaying and believing that “We Shall Overcome.” I was so elated by the music, so utterly transformed, that I can feel it again now, a quarter-century later. The darkness can still be pierced by the shimmering light of that music. It’s the brightness of hope. I can feel it.

If you’ve been like me, living in the gloomy darkness of our age, carrying the burden of hopelessness, I have something to offer. It’s a gift of joy, an enduring elation. It reminds me that I have light within myself to counter the darkness.

If a struggling-to-see-light Jewish grandmother in her 70s can accept this as a gift of light, you can too.

Dear reader…let it shine!

Speaker, artist and author. Activist calling for courage, compassion and integrity. Mom/Grandma. 1st Female White House Advanceman. Keynoted ’92 RNC.