Wichita Falls, Texas, 1979
I remember the sound of the city’s tornado warning system. It was a high-pitched rolling tone that eerily echoes in my head today. I remember the sky. It was dark and green. There was an absence of air.
As we raced to a nearby storm shelter, I watched the clouds hug the sky. I always feared the snakes and creepy crawlies that lived inside that storm shelter, but not this time. We entered into the mustiness of the shelter’s safety and the rusty tin door screeched as it closed behind us. It was there we huddled below the earth’s surface in complete darkness. My dog shook uncontrollably in my arms as I held him tighter to my chest. Sounds of a locomotive couldn’t compare to the blaring roar of the powerful storm above us.
We prayed. I knew this day would be my last.
Then, it all stopped. Silence won. Reentering the atmosphere from the safety of the storm shelter was frightening and surreal. A young lady, covered in mud and water, was yelling from beneath a bridge. She was sure that the storm would return and that we should all take cover once again. The apartment complex across the street had vanished. It seemed as though we were moving in slow motion, hoping to find life amongst the mounds of debris.
Lost landmarks and missing street signs made it next to impossible to find our house. We eventually found an empty lot that we used to call home. It amazes me that in a few minutes time, all that we knew was gone, but I find it more intriguing that the memory of that dark day has lasted a lifetime.
Why do I forget to tell the part of the story when the light of the sun came shining through the clouds as we emerged from the darkness of the storm shelter? Why do I still hear loved ones speak of wars and of a beloved president shot from the window of a depository? Why does the sound of the high school principal’s voice still repeat the news of a space shuttle’s demise like it was happening today?
Why do we recall exactly what we were doing the day the planes hit the towers?
New York City, 2016
I remember visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City one rainy afternoon. The very first image I encountered as I entered the museum was a picture of the World Trade Center Towers as they stood on that September morning. The most noticeable feature in this image was the color of the sky. I was dumbfounded by its beauty. An art installation by Spencer Finch included 2,983 blue watercolor canvases in one of the first exhibits. Each piece was in a different shade of blue and represented a victim of the tragedy. All of the blue hues somehow worked together to depict the beautiful blue light that colored the sky before the darkness fell.
Strangers aimlessly walked the paths of the museum. Our arms were folded and heads held low as we slowly wandered from exhibit to exhibit. I listened attentively to the audible device as the narrator described the nightmare in detail. Plaques and artifacts told a story of missing loved ones and heroes. I was uncomfortable and in disbelief as I tried to imagine the unimaginable. By the time I was halfway through the halls and dark corridors, the depictions of the blue sky at the entrance of the exhibit had been locked deep in the shadows of my mind.
People are attracted to the light. Each spring, college students and families flock to the beaches to bathe in the sun. Photographers artistically capture the light as it illuminates the darkness. A short walk on a beautiful sunny day renews my spirit.
So, why do I allow my light to be overshadowed by a simple tweet, an angry driver, or even a disappointing episode of my favorite binge-worthy television show? Why do I see gatherings of strangers who shout in the streets while others hide in the darkness of their homes from those who are different than themselves?
Through the cold winter months, it is hard to remember the warmth of the summer sun. I often wonder, how would we know the warmth of the sun if we hadn’t felt the bitter cold? Maybe we are currently experiencing the same feelings. Are these darkest of days here like the bitter cold only to remind us of a light we once knew? Are the rising death tolls from an elusive virus and winners versus losers of elections the catalysts that will bring us back into a new light we have never known? What is this light, and how will I know when it has arrived?
Austin, Texas, 2020
This past summer at a cheerleading camp, I was listening to cheerleaders answer questions about being a leader. I heard some of the same familiar responses that I have heard over the years. “We should be on time,” “cheerleaders should make good grades,” and “we all need to dress appropriately” were just a few of the answers that I vaguely recall.
But as we were nearing the end of the discussion, a young lady at the back of the gym raised her hand and said, “we need to find compassion for others.” Everyone in the room stopped and gave the young lady their undivided attention. She continued with, “I used to have anger issues. I was mad every day because people were so mean to me. One day, I realized that I should have compassion for those who are making fun of me. Maybe their lives are harder than my life, and this is the only way they know how to express themselves.”
The coach and I looked at each other in amazement and grinned. This young lady was a ray of light. She courageously shared the importance of compassion for others amongst her harshest of critics, her peers. In this unexpected moment, she spoke so clearly. Her point was simple but so brilliantly stated. Her light was shining so brightly through her words and spirit. This was definitely one ray of light I was going to store in a safe place in my mind.
Had this eight-grade cheerleader given us a glimmer of light from behind the mask that covered her face? Is compassion for others part of the light that I am missing? Why do I feel that thoughts of love and respect for one another have taken a backseat? Why are stories of forgiveness only found in fables and history books? Why do memes of political figures gain viral status and memes of good faith and kindness to one another disappear within the depths of social media?
Maybe it’s time to look into the embers for a spark that still remains. Maybe it is time to reignite the fire that will one day light the sky again.
I googled bible verses on the subject of light. I was overwhelmed by the number of verses that populated my search. Psalm 18:28: “You, Lord keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light,” and Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” were just a few that grabbed my attention.
Looking to the Christmas story, as far back as vacation bible school, I remember how important light is to the story. The shepherds were told by an angel, that shone down upon them, of the birth of a new king. Wise men from the east were guided by the light of a star to the location of the newborn king. They showered him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The whole plot of the beautiful story is that it was in the darkness of the night that the light of the world was born!
A Light to Remember: December 21-22, 2020
I don’t know if it is just me, but there seem to be more lights this year in neighborhood yards. Apple TV graciously granted PBS the rights to the Charlie Brown Christmas Special so the children of our country could watch it for free, and I think I may hear more people say “Merry Christmas” instead of Happy Holidays from behind their mandatory mask.
Is there a bright light closer than we ever imagined?
A dear friend of mine sent me article from Forbes Magazine about the Christmas Star. Reportedly, from December 21st and into December 22nd, the Christmas Star will shine brighter than it has in 800 years.
Maybe tonight and during the rest of the Christmas season, we can view the Christmas Star and remember that light still surrounds us, even in the darkest of times.
Maybe this Christmas season, we can put our differences aside and gather together in spirit under the Christmas Star as they did in Bethlehem on that cold winter’s night.
Maybe the brightness of this year’s Christmas Star will bring back the memories of the light that appeared from the clouds when we emerged from darker times of our past.
Maybe the light of the Christmas Star will remind us that the sky will return to a beautiful shade of blue, day after day.
Maybe the light of the Christmas star will help us to unite together once again through acts of compassion, love, forgiveness, and kindness.