Ways of Seeing: Be Your Own Light
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote: A billion stars go spinning through the night, blazing high above your head. But in you is the presence that will be when all the stars are dead. Fear can make lights go out. But we cannot allow fear to dim the presence of the light within. That light connects us with the stars. In this darkest time of the year, we see more stars, but if you are missing daylight, now that we are past the winter solstice, the sun is rising earlier and setting later.
As the earth is tilting, we are turning the calendar to a new year. How will you welcome the new year? This is my ritual. I get out my calendar and reflect on the year – month by month. What were the significant events? Is one event the most significant? For me, it will be the presidential election. Journalist Sarah Kendizior believes that we have come out of this election with a new norm and it is important to reflect on our beliefs and our values.
She urges us to write down our dreams for the future and our hopes for our children. Write about the struggle of our ancestors and how the hardship they overcame shaped the person we are today. Write our biography; write our memories. Write a list of things we would never do and things we would never believe.
Sarah thinks we are heading into dark times and we need to be our own light. “Do not accept brutality and cruelty as normal even if it is sanctioned. Protect the vulnerable and encourage the afraid. If you are brave, stand up for others. If you cannot be brave – and it is often hard to be brave – be kind.
“But most of all, never lose sight of who you are and what you value. If you find yourself doing something that feels questionable or wrong a few months or years from now, find what you wrote on who you are and read it. Ask if that version of yourself would have done the same thing. And if the answer is no? Don’t do it.”
One significant event for me was volunteering to host the Mexican consulate when they came to Middlebury and met with one hundred farm workers. Once a year, the consulate staff comes to renew passports, issue birth certificates, and the consular ID card. The ID card is a way for the Mexican government to keep track of its citizens for consular and tax purposes and provide them with what the government considers to be a basic human right: the ability to identify oneself.
The farmers who bring their workers are dependent on them to keep their farms running and worried for their safety. The edge of fear is present in the room. But we are in a church where U.S. ICE—Immigration and Customs Enforcement – have no jurisdiction. We are in a sanctuary. Spending the day among them, I witnessed their strong sense of family. How they become family to one another so far away from home. Some are lucky to have their families with them.
Spanish-speaking students from Middlebury College volunteer to translate. One, a vivacious woman from Mexico, was my partner for the day. She warmly welcomed the farm workers as they arrived and helped them fill out their forms. She told me of her plan to apply for citizenship, but now, the election results have her wondering what to do. In the new year, we plan to cook dinner together. Her family will stay with me when she graduates in May.
We may have learned with this election that while we may not share a vision of America, in regard to immigration, I believe that we share values. Helping each other right where we live. We begin there. We begin to forgive each other for the disrespect we have shown to one another during this campaign. We begin to sow respect back into our society. We begin to disarm our own hearts.
With the winter solstice, let us be grateful for the stars spinning through the night, blazing high above our heads. And let us be grateful for this planet spinning through the atmosphere on its joyful axis. Life is a mystery and so is death. And, I am grateful to be on this journey, spinning in the mystery. Let your light shine.
Johanna Nichols is a mother, grandmother and writer. As a former educator and retired minister, she always supported healthy families and communities for children. She currently serves on the Board of Hospice Volunteer Services.
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