Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Shining A Light In The Darkness

First published in the Oxford Journal on Wednesday, December 11, 2013, by Sara Mattinson.

All the signs of a dress rehearsal were there: A guy with a screwdriver was working on the inside doors, the choir members were mismatched in their everyday clothes, the house lights were bright, and shouts and screams from the children getting into their costumes reached the sanctuary from the basement.
The next day, the day of the community Christmas concert in Pugwash, shouts and screams from children were heard in Newtown, Connecticut, as a young man walked into an elementary school and opened fire, killing 20 first-graders and six teachers and administrators before turning the gun on himself.
The concert in Pugwash went ahead that evening as planned, as was appropriate, not despite the tragedy in Newtown on December 14, 2012, but because of it. 
We staggered in, stunned by the horrific events of the day, and sank onto pews, sank into the promise of peace and hope, joy and love provided by the sight of an enormous Christmas tree decorated with lights and ornaments, the choir looking elegant, the children costumed and quiet. We needed the sanctuary provided by that space, by that concert. 
A prayer: May the place of my trust be where my hope finds sanctuary. 
On that cold December evening nearly a year ago, it didn’t matter what church you attended regularly, it didn’t matter what denomination you identified with, it didn’t matter if you were deeply religious or only casually spiritual; we gathered as one small community of humans with hurting hearts. We knew we could trust in the people gathered in that place. 
Together we experienced the joy of beautiful music amidst the bleakness of a massacre. One choir member in particular in the choir sang with a look of pure joy on her face. Her face was lit up by a pure enjoyment of the music and the singing. 
The pianist was the vice-principal at an elementary school and also the mother of a Grade Two student. Already running on the hyped-up exhaustion that comes with putting on a major concert, she would not have yet processed what had happened earlier in the day, was not letting herself think about the meaning of it, yet. 
At the end of the concert, Rev. Meggin King spoke the words that needed to be said, a brief acknowledgement of the dark cloud of sorrow under which we’d been celebrating. 
Afterwards, we gathered downstairs for tea and coffee, sandwiches and sweets. Acquaintances and friends chatted. We talked about Christmas plans – one woman admitted she’d stopped counting at 30 the number of family members who would be at her farmhouse on Christmas Day – and we laughed, we hugged, we wished each other “Merry Christmas”.
That is how fellowship, too, was part of the horror and grief of the day. The giving of kind words, the receiving of encouragement, the sharing of joy create bonds in good times that sustain us through the bad times. That is how we keep the light of hope burning through the darkness.
Ben Wheeler was one of the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. In an interview in the December issue of Oprah magazine, his mother Francine revealed that Ben loved lighthouses. 
“Think of what a lighthouse does,” Francine Wheeler said. “It shows the light so that we can find our way. Now Benny has become our light.”
The candles, the glowing tree, the joyful face of the woman in the choir – those are the lights we found when we came seeking sanctuary, when we came seeking a way through the pain.
When darkness settles around us, and it does, all too frequently, we need to keep going no matter how much it hurts. We need to sing, we need to see children in their costumes, we need to share a laugh over tea and squares. What makes that possible is the kindness we show each other. 
Shining the light of hope and peace, joy and love is our only human defence against the darkness. 

Image from @WeAreNewtown 

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